FDA approval of saliva-based coronavirus tests will reduce the risk of infection for healthcare workers

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The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency approval for the first saliva-based coronavirus test, which could potentially reduce the risk of infection for healthcare workers while helping to reduce shortages of medical supplies.

The approval was announced on Monday. The test was developed by researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, in collaboration with a private corporation from the state and Utah company, Spectrum Solutions. Unlike the somewhat invasive methods currently available, the new test requires a patient to spit in a tube which can then be collected and analyzed.

Current tests most often involve a long swab inserted far into a patient’s nose or throat and twisted for a few seconds, which can cause strong reactions, including gags and coughing from some patients, which exposes health workers at additional risk.

“Saliva tests will contribute to the global shortage of swabs for sampling and increase testing of patients, and this will not require that health care professionals be threatened to collect samples,” said the scientist and professor. Andrew Brooks of Rutgers in a statement. “Saliva testing will also be important for people in quarantine because they don’t know how long it will take before they are no longer infectious. This will allow health workers to free themselves from quarantine and return to work safely. ”

“The impact of this approval is significant,” he added. “This means we no longer have to put healthcare professionals at risk of infection by taking nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swabs. We can keep valuable personal protective equipment for use in patient care instead of testing. All of this combined will have a huge impact on testing in New Jersey and across the United States. ”

doctor tester and lab coat
The most common methods of screening for coronavirus have been to use swabs, which are currently scarce due to the pandemic.
dusanpetkovic / Getty

It is believed that the saliva test is as accurate as current methods. It will first be available at select New Jersey test sites as of Wednesday. The university says their lab could potentially process tens of thousands of test results a day.

Although saliva samples can be administered without a patient coming into direct contact with a healthcare practitioner, FDA clearance specified that the tests could only be administered in a healthcare facility by a professional, according to the Associated Press.

Swab tests may pose a greater risk to healthcare workers, but new tests are unlikely to completely eliminate the risks if they require patients to establish some form of contact with healthcare workers. Personal protective equipment has been insufficient due to the pandemic, but will likely remain essential to protect workers who test potentially infected patients.

Newsweek contacted the FDA for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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