Coronavirus saliva test? Spitting into a tube just as effective as deep nasal swab

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – While the coronavirus pandemic is making life difficult for many, testing for the virus can be just as unpleasant. Patients on the receiving end of the deep nasal swabs healthcare workers use say the test is just as comfortable as it looks. Some even refer to the coronavirus test as “brain tickling” because of how deep the swab reaches. Fortunately, a new study shows this invasive and uncomfortable procedure may be unnecessary. Researchers say saliva samples are just as effective for diagnosing COVID-19 cases.

Researchers from ARUP Laboratories and University of Utah Health analyzed over 1,100 samples from 368 volunteers at a Utah drive-through coronavirus testing site from May to June. Volunteers were required to self-collect saliva by spitting into a tube. Participants also self-collected an anterior nasal specimen by swabbing the front of both nostrils.

Promising results for more comfortable coronavirus test

The study finds the combined use of saliva samples and nasal swabs is most effective, with a 90% accuracy rate. Moreover, researchers reveal that using saliva samples alone is just as effective as the deep nasal swab coronavirus test.

In addition to avoiding uncomfortable “brain tickling,” the saliva/nasal swabs method is preferable because it keeps healthcare workers safer. Since collecting saliva and anterior nasal samples can be done by patients themselves, it reduces COVID-19 exposure risk for healthcare workers. Nasal swabs from self-tests on their own can miss infections nearly 15% of the time, the authors add.

“Saliva and nasal swab self-collection can resolve many of the resource and safety issues involved in SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing,” says ARUP chief medical officer Julio Delgado in a media release. “Our goal is to make this testing available to hospitals and healthcare systems nationwide.”

Moving forward, researchers are studying the combination of a coronavirus test involving a deep nasal swab and a throat culture. Their results show that this method, though arguably even more uncomfortable, raises accuracy to a 98%.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

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