medical sciences

Health Board and University of Tartu to start pilot study of saliva-based coronavirus testing

Photo credit: Unsplash, JC Gellidon
If the pilot study proves successful, the saliva test will be used more extensively. Photo credit: Unsplash, JC Gellidon

Next week, a pilot study will start for testing coronavirus from saliva samples. The saliva test is believed to be cheaper and more convenient than the nasal swab test used at present.

While so far mostly nasal swab tests have been used in Estonia for detecting coronavirus, the Health Board intends to assess whether the saliva test is as reliable for testing the viral infection. Külli Rae, Head of the Health Board’s infectious diseases laboratory, said that testing saliva samples is simple and probably more convenient for people than the currently used nasal swab method.

“People can take the sample themselves at home – they do not have to go to the testing station, which saves the valuable time of medical specialists, and protective equipment is not needed either. To take a sample, a person must just collect saliva into a tube provided for the sample,” Rae added. Because the method is simple, it is also cheaper than the nasal swab test.

One of the leaders of the study Lili Milani, Research Profesor of the Estonian Genome Centre of the University of Tartu, said that although saliva tests are already used in several countries, it is necessary to assess the feasibility and reliability of this method in Estonia. It is especially important to develop a child-friendly method that could be used for rapid testing in schools.

“First, we will conduct a pilot study to test the method and compare the precision of the results obtained from saliva samples with results of samples taken from the nose. In addition, we will test the method in workplaces and schools to see whether people are able to take the samples themselves,” Milani said.

Mikk Jürisson, Research Fellow of Public Health at the University of Tartu, said that currently some people avoid testing for the fear of the inconvenience of the procedure. “We have also had problems with involving people in monitoring surveys because they have had unpleasant experience with the nasopharyngeal test. Hopefully, saliva tests will help attract more people to take coronavirus tests,” Jürisson added.

The pilot study will be conducted over the next week and its results are due by the end of the month. Külli Rae said that if the pilot study is successful, the saliva test will be taken into use more extensively.

This article was first published on the University of Tartu webpage. 

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