Emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration to use a new and inexpensive rapid saliva test for COVID-19 could be a game changer for tracking and slowing the spread of the virus, says Virginia Tech epidemiologist Charlotte Baker.
“If the new rapid saliva test proves to be as accurate as existing rapid tests or the nasal swab test, it could be easier and cheaper to provide testing for large groups of people, especially rural and underserved areas that have been hard hit by the pandemic,” says Baker.
“The new saliva test is less invasive so people would not have any discomfort during or after the test, and it could allow for testing people more than once a week for a relatively low cost,” says Baker. “This would help us better trace where COVID-19 is spreading and stop the disease from moving so rapidly through communities.”
Baker explains that the new rapid saliva test needs to meet a number of criteria to make it an option that many people would like to use. This includes:
- Does it have a low false positive rate and a low false negative rate?
- Will the DNA that can be captured from the saliva be kept in a database for other purposes? Who would own this data?
- What is the cost to the person getting the test? Is that going to be a cost covered by insurance, by the government, or is it an out of pocket cost? If it is an out of pocket cost, testing would still not be affordable or accessible to many.
“More frequent and affordable testing is really important as more people go back to work, as people need to get back on a regimen of regular medical and dental care, and with people going back to school. It will also help us ease back into athletic activity with other people,” says Baker.
“While this new method of testing can help slow the spread of the virus, it remains important for people to practice safe distancing, washing hands with soap and water, and staying home as often as possible until the pandemic is over. Testing just helps us know who has COVID-19 – it does not eliminate it,” says Baker.
Charlotte Baker is an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the Virginia–Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, located at Virginia Tech. More here.
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