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Tags: Coronavirus | virus test | saliva | reopen

Saliva Test Promises to Transform US Virus Battle

a coronavirus testing site in california
A coronavirus testing site in California (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 01 May 2020 09:31 PM

An innovative breakthrough in coronavirus testing that avoids having a doctor or nurse in full protective gear stick a swab into your nose to collect a sample could play a key role in opening up the economy and getting people back to work, experts say.

The revolutionary system developed at Rutgers University involves spitting into a test tube. That method of collecting a sample is so much easier — it cuts way down on the use of the swabs, masks, and face shields that are in such short supply — that it could play a key role in the surveillance testing needed to detect any outbreaks as soon as they occur.

The FDA has already approved the use of the saliva-based test in New Jersey for the general public, as well as in Garden State correctional facilities, and in over 30 long-term care facilities there.

The FDA has also granted emergency-use approval to another saliva-based coronavirus test, developed by MicroGen Diagnostics, that has proven to be more accurate than the uncomfortable nasal swab sampling that potentially exposes doctors and nurses to pathogens.

The saliva-based test developed by MicroGen Diagnostics has several advantages. It’s considered highly accurate, and obviates the need for the long nasal testing swabs that are in short supply. It’s also much safer to collect, because medical professionals in full protective gear don’t have to peer into another person’s nose to get the sample.

A patient just spits into a container, seals it, places the container in a bag, and sends it off to the company’s lab in Lubbock, Texas. The test results are available within 24 hours.

MicroGenDX already has successfully conducted over 14,000 tests, and company officials predict they’ll be able to process over 10,000 tests per day.

Health officials in Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, and California have inquired about expanding the saliva test into their jurisdictions as well.

Angela Rasmussen, a Columbia University virologist, told The New York Times, "If people are going back to work, and they're going to be tested presumably on a regular basis, we really do need to have less invasive sampling methods than the swabs."

It has been increasingly clear as states move to reopen for business that many of them still have inadequate testing capacity to detect outbreaks before they become full-fledged contagions, StatNews reports. The saliva test could help address that.

Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security says the saliva test could be modified to allow for at-home use. People would simply spit into a test tube at home, then send it off to be analyzed. 

"If we can do nasal swabs unsupervised, there's no reason why we can't do these tests unsupervised as well," he told the Times.

Medical professionals are enthusiastic about the new testing method in part because it doesn't require a practitioner to peer into someone's nose and throat to conduct it.

Arthur Brooks, director of the university lab that developed the test, told The Associated Press, "This prevents healthcare professionals from having to actually be in the face of somebody that is symptomatic."

In fact, collecting the sample does not call for direct physical interaction with a healthcare worker. The patient simply spits into a tube containing a preservation agent that preserves the viral DNA until it can be analyzed.

The analysis is being performed by Utah-based Spectrum Solutions, and the goal is to ramp up testing capacity from the current 10,000 tests per day to over 30,000 per day.

President Trump first announced the FDA approval of the saliva-based test on April 17, stating, "We do have a saliva test that just came out, and that can be self-administered, and it's said to be fantastic."

So far, the only at-home test kit to win FDA approval is a LabCorp system that uses self-administered nasal swabs. The FDA carefully analyzes at-home tests designed to be self-administered by consumers, to ensure they are reliable and easy enough for consumers to use effectively without guidance from medical professionals. 

So far, trials indicate the new testing method is as at least as accurate as the nasal swab. In a side-by-side trial based on specimens from 60 patients, the saliva method matched the result of the swab 100% of the time.

Researchers say the nasopharyngeal swabs, by contrast, have sometimes been associated with false negatives.

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An innovative breakthrough in coronavirus testing that avoids having a doctor or nurse in full protective gear stick a swab into your nose to collect a sample could play a key role in opening up the economy and getting people back to work, experts say.
virus test, saliva, reopen
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2020-31-01
Friday, 01 May 2020 09:31 PM
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