New Delhi: A new saliva test for detecting coronavirus is being tried by researchers from Southampton, UK, in which participants can spit into test tubes at home and send their samples to a laboratory.
In the four-week trial, currently under way, participants are made to send their samples every week for testing and the results are sent back within 48 hours.
The pilot trial, which began on 22 June and will an end on 20 July, was launched as a partnership between the Southampton City Council, the University of Southampton and the National Health Services (NHS), to test the efficacy of saliva-based testing.
The procedure for sample collection is simple — participants spit into test tubes at home, the sample is then taken to a laboratory where an RT-LAMP (Reverse Transcriptase-Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test is conducted. This method includes adding the sample to a solution and heated to release the genetic material of the virus.
The results of the pilot trial are being measured against RT-PCR results.
“Saliva testing could potentially make it even easier for people to take coronavirus tests at home, without having to use swabs. This trial will also help us learn if routine, at-home testing could pick up cases of the virus earlier,” Matt Hancock, health and social care secretary of the city, said in a statement.
The trial is currently being conducted on over 14,000 NHS staff and their families, as well as some staffers at the University of Southampton. If results of the trial are successful, all of Southampton could have access to the test.
But Southampton isn’t the only place experimenting with saliva tests. Australia has done over 2.5 million saliva tests so far, and on 8 May, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved an at-home saliva test on emergency authorisation.
India, meanwhile, doesn’t yet have any trial or approval for saliva-based testing, according to listings in the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) website.
“Right now, there are only four types of tests in India — the RT-PCR, the rapid antigen, rapid antibody, and ELISA. Samples are either swabs or blood,” Dr Lokesh Sharma, spokesperson of the ICMR, told ThePrint.
The RT-PCR remains the gold standard for Covid-19 testing in India.
Pros and cons of saliva test
The biggest advantage of saliva testing is that it could protect healthcare workers from contracting Covid-19 infection at the time of sample collection. It could also reduce the number of PPE kits typically worn by healthcare workers while collecting swabs.
It is also a more comfortable alternative, since patients don’t need a swab to be inserted into their airways. Most compelling, however, is that it is a quick test whose results can be had within a few hours.
Some studies have, however, indicated that saliva tests are not as sensitive as RT-PCR.
A non-peer reviewed meta analysis of saliva testing has found that saliva carries less viral load compared to swabbed samples. Another study with 600 participants has found that saliva tests could not detect 13 per cent positive participants.
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