How Does COVID-19 Saliva Testing Work?

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Update Date 13/11/2020 . 4 mins read
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Mass testing for COVID-19 is not an easy feat. The current available methods of testing can produce false negative results and thus, aside from proper timing and correlation with clinical probability, multiple testing is frequently warranted. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved saliva testing for COVID-19 as a more reliable and convenient means of testing.

Scientists are now looking to saliva testing for COVID-19

When it comes to combating COVID-19, mass testing is essential.

Mass testing can help identify infected individuals to treat and isolate them to prevent further spread of the virus.

However, the current methods of testing available are not perfect and have varying limitations in sensitivity. People who had been swabbed also shared that it was uncomfortable, since samples need to be scraped from deep inside the nose using a long probe.

Researchers, however, have found evidence that the viral load of a person with COVID-19 can be detected through saliva. RUCDR Infinite Biologics at Rutgers University in the US has developed a method of saliva testing for COVID-19. And the FDA has already approved its use.

How then is testing done using saliva?

All that a person needs to do is to spit into a container with a preservative liquid, which is then sent out for processing. Just like swab tests, saliva tests would also require a PCR machine to process the samples.

As of now, the turnaround time is roughly 72 hours. However, testing could possibly be done in a few hours with the right infrastructure in place.

Saliva testing for COVID-19 is also safer since people who want to get tested can just send their samples. They do not need to be in contact with someone else, unlike with swab testing. It is also cheaper and much easier to get samples.

However, it will still take time before this method reaches other countries. Additionally, it also requires certain chemicals and testing equipment. However, this could be a potential breakthrough that can help with mass testing.

What does a high viral load mean?

Simply put, viral load is the amount of virus in a person. For infectious diseases, a high viral load means that a person is highly contagious, and a low viral load means that a person is less contagious.

Researchers found that the viral load of COVID-19 was consistently high in the saliva, which makes it a good source of samples for testing.

However, this also means that saliva from a person with COVID-19 can infect other people. This is another reason why wearing a face mask is important to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The current state of COVID-19 testing in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the available options for testing are few and can take a long time to get results.

Right now, 3 types of tests are available in the country. First is the RT-PCR or the swab test. Second is the rapid test kit, which uses blood samples to test for antibodies. The third available test is the rapid antigen test.

The rapid test kit, like its name implies, can provide the results faster. Compared to the RT-PCR, the rapid test kit is also cheaper. However, the test’s accuracy is affected by timing, as its chances of missing a true COVID-19 infection are high when it is given or taken too early.

Rapid COVID-19 tests measure the level of antibodies produced during an infection. If the person has just recently been exposed or infected, they may not have enough antibodies to produce an accurate result. Thus, false negatives are possible with this mode of testing. The accuracy of the test kit also depends on the manufacturer.

On the other hand, the RT-PCR is more accurate, and can detect COVID-19 even in asymptomatic patients. But the challenge is that it takes longer for the results to come out, and is also prone to human error. It can also show false-positive as well as false-negative results.

The RT-PCR is also more expensive, and not all laboratories have the equipment necessary for this type of test.

Because of these limitations, not everyone can receive COVID-19 tests. Those who are suspected of carrying the virus or who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, as well as the elderly, frontliners, and people in high-risk groups, are higher on the priority list.

What can you do to stay safe?

More than 6 months have passed since the quarantine has been implemented in Luzon. Despite the best efforts of our frontliners, the number of COVID-19 cases is still rising.

Even with the declaration of a less strict general quarantine, it is still very important for people to practice safety procedures to avoid catching and/or spreading the disease. Here are some important tips to remember:

  • If possible, stay at home and avoid going outside in order to minimize contact with other people.
  • When you need to go outside, be sure to wear a face mask, and keep your distance from others.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Disinfect your surroundings to minimize the spread of disease.
  • If you feel any symptoms that may be due to the virus, get tested (if you can) and isolate yourself if you are with your family.

These measures will help lower your risk of catching COVID-19.

Learn more about COVID-19 here

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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