Saliva COVID tests appear as accurate as nasal swabs

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Credit: University of Wisconsin Madison

Two new studies have found that tests that look for the virus in samples of saliva are about as reliable as tests that require a sample from the back of the nose.

That’s sure to be a welcome development to anyone who would rather avoid the discomfort of having a long, stiff swab inserted so far back into their nasal cavity that it feels like it’s tickling their brain.

But it’s not the only benefit. Pretty much anyone can administer a saliva-based test, so there’s no need for a trip to a testing center. It also frees up the time of medical personnel and spares them potential exposure to the virus.

In one of the new studies, a team from Yale identified 70 hospital patients with COVID-19 whose infections had been confirmed with the traditional nasopharyngeal swabs. Each time a healthcare worker carried out additional nasal swab tests, the researchers asked the patients to give themselves a saliva test as well.

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The saliva tests did a better job of detecting the virus formally known as SARS-CoV-2, the researchers found. In the first five days after diagnosis, 81% of the saliva tests came back positive, compared with 71% of the nasopharyngeal tests.

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“Given the growing need for testing, our findings provide support for the potential of saliva specimens in the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the Yale team wrote.

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