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Less invasive saliva PCR test 'almost as accurate' as nose/throat swab

In a new Irish study 94% of the positive nose/throat samples also tested positive for Covid-19 via the saliva test.

File photo of a male patient undergoing a saliva swab
File photo of a male patient undergoing a saliva swab
Image: Shutterstock/New Africa

A STUDY CONDUCTED by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has demonstrated that a PCR test using saliva to test for Covid-19 is almost as accurate as the standard nose and throat swab.

The saliva screening represents a less invasive alternative to the nasal/throat swab and “could enable greater capacity for, and uptake of frequent testing of people who require regular screening”, a college spokesperson has said.

The research, carried out in Ireland by the RCSI’s University of Medicine and Health Sciences, has been published in HRB Open Research and approved by an international panel of peer-reviewers this week.

The study evaluated the performance of the established “gold standard” nasal/throat swabbing and the more recently developed ‘Saliva Direct’ approach that tests for Covid-19 in saliva specimens.

The study involved the collection of nasal/throat swabs and saliva samples from a group of over 300 symptomatic and asymptomatic participants between November 2020 and March 2021.

The participants included asymptomatic RCSI students who participated in the study as part of the routine Covid-19 screening programme at the university and patients admitted to Beaumont Hospital with respiratory symptoms related to the coronavirus.

Some 94% of the positive nose/throat samples also tested positive via the saliva test, while 96% of those that tested negative on the nose/throat swab also tested negative on the saliva test.

The results of this study are consistent with the original results in similar studies abroad.

Increased compliance

Speaking about the results, Professor Steve Kerrigan, Deputy Head of RCSI’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said the Irish study “has further validated that saliva testing can offer an accurate alternative to the more invasive commonly used nose and throat swabbing method”.

“The saliva sample to test for Covid-19 can be easily collected by the person themselves, so has the potential to increase compliance with screening, particularly those who require frequent repeated testing.

“As the saliva test does not require a healthcare professional to conduct it, this method also reduces the risk of infection for test-centre staff associated with conducting the nasal/throat swabbing,” Kerrigan stated.

RCSI conducted the study in collaboration with University College Dublin and Beaumont Hospital.

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Saliva Direct was developed by the Yale School of Public Health and has been authorised for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US.

The Journal has contacted the HSE for comment on the study’s results.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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