Researchers Develop Saliva-Based Tests for COVID-19

August 4, 2020 Updated: August 4, 2020

Two professors at Louisiana State University (LSU) have developed a saliva-based test to help track COVID-19 in children in kindergarten through twelfth grade and school teachers, the university said in a statement.

The test was developed by LSU professors Stephania Cormier, a respiratory immunologist, and Rebecca Christofferson, an emerging virus expert. The test in question would make it easier to track COVID-19 as opposed to the regular nasal swabs.

“Realizing how the discomfort of nasopharyngeal swabs deep inside the nose may prevent some people from seeking out, agreeing to, and/or repeating testing, Cormier began thinking of saliva as an alternative source for samples,” the LSU News stated.

Even though samples from the nasopharyngeal area is the most common type of test for diseases like COVID-19, they have never been used to such a scale such as during the pandemic. Furthermore, the test poses more hassles than just discomfort in the individuals getting their nose swabbed for testing. One of which is that the test is required to be done by healthcare professionals. The test also requires a vial for transporting the swabbed sample, for the purpose of storage and transportation.

Moreover, since the test requires a nasal swab, it often makes individuals taking the test sneeze, which means that the test administrator needs to be dressed in full protective gear.

Saliva-based tests present fewer hassles. It also means that people will be less uncomfortable with it.

“This is especially important for repeated testing of surveillance or research because it could decrease the number of people who drop out of a study,” Christofferson said.

“We found saliva-based tests to be as accurate as nasopharyngeal swabs. A positive result with a nasopharyngeal swab meant a positive result with saliva, and so on,” she said.

This doesn’t mean that the saliva-based tests are completely hassle-free. A few challenges to switching to a saliva-based test are explaining to people what the sample requires, and what interferes with the testing process.

“Snot is not saliva. We don’t want people to just clear their sinuses to give us what’s in there. We basically need you to drool into a tube, no snot. Also, bits of food in the sample is less than ideal,” Christofferson said.

Furthermore, anything that might hinder the processing of the saliva sample will interfere with the testing and won’t give a proper indication of whether the individual is infected with COVID-19.