Researchers say saliva-based asymptomatic testing could ease strain on health system
EDMONTON -- Researchers at McMaster University are studying saliva-based testing procedures for COVID-19 that would allow for routine screening of asymptomatic individuals on a large scale, a strategy they say would alleviate the strain on Canada’s public health systems.
The study involves a so-called “spit test” that is modelled after one first trialled in the NBA bubble, and which recently received FDA approval.
Researchers believe the saliva-based test, which provides same-day results, would enable large-scale and routine testing of asymptomatic people to better identify cases, isolate infected individuals, and limit the spread of COVID-19.
“The goal here is to investigate a streamlined procedure, relative to that which is typically done in public health settings, where the subject self-samples -- just drools into a tube -- and we test that sample and get the results back to the individual in a day,” Eric Brown, a researcher at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, told CTV News Channel Wednesday.
Brown and a team of researchers will spend the next two months testing hundreds of volunteers, three times per week, in a bid to understand how accurate the saliva-based tests are.
Researchers are also conducting serology tests, which identify antibodies in the blood, to measure the incidence of false-negative and false-positive results of the saliva tests.
“It’s a fair inconvenience to get a positive [test result]. It kind of turns your life upside down for a little while,” said Brown.
“And false negatives are not good either. So, we’ve set up our study to detect both false positives and false negatives. We don’t know too much about the latter, but we know our false positives are zero right now.”
The test is not yet accredited, which means any participant that tests positive is required to follow up with their local public health unit to confirm the diagnosis with a nasal swab test.
However, Brown and his team believe that, in the future, saliva-based testing may play a role in reducing the burden on public health by allowing for mass-scale testing to be conducted in workplaces such as universities, industry and long-term care homes.
Amica Senior Lifestyles, which operates private-pay seniors residences in Canada, partially funded the study.
“Saliva-based testing allows us to identify and isolate asymptomatic cases early -- helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This protects our team members and the seniors who call Amica home,” Doug MacLatchy, CEO of Amica Senior Lifestyles, said in a press release.
The study also aims to investigate how saliva-based tests might be produced on a commercial scale.