Saliva testing for Covid-19 'useful way to find where the virus is in the community'

Saliva testing for Covid-19 'useful way to find where the virus is in the community'

Deputy Director of Graduate Entry Medicine at University College Cork (UCC) Dr John MacSharry has highlighted how saliva testing for Covid-19 “will be a useful way to find where the virus is in the community”. Picture: Getty Image

Deputy Director of Graduate Entry Medicine at University College Cork (UCC) Dr John MacSharry has highlighted how saliva testing for Covid-19 “will be a useful way to find where the virus is in the community”.

Dr MacSharry was speaking during an online conference hosted by UCC Science Society on Thursday about the benefits of using a saliva test to detect Covid-19.

Dr MacSharry is part of the APC Microbiome Ireland team of scientists working on exploring a less invasive approach to testing by developing techniques to detect the presence of the virus in saliva, allowing people to take samples of saliva at home, reducing the need for personnel and PPE when testing.

The research project is one of a total of 83 projects awarded funding under the Covid-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation Programme led by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

Dr John MacSharry of UCC’s Schools of Medicine and Microbiology and APC Microbiome Ireland.
Dr John MacSharry of UCC’s Schools of Medicine and Microbiology and APC Microbiome Ireland.

The project compared saliva testing to current testing which uses a nasopharyngeal swab to swab the back of the upper respiratory tract occurs, targeting the epithelial cells where the virus replicates and found saliva testing to be less invasive, allowed for self-sampling and reduction of PPE and personnel needed, freeing up doctors and nurses to care for sick patients.

Dr MacSharry said that the team also found that saliva samples could be used for rapid screening of the community.

What we need to do is start looking more in our community and we don't need to be waiting for someone to turn up and I know some people who won't turn up and say that they're sick because they're afraid they might not get paid the next day if they are sick.

He said that through a partnership with DNA Genotek, provider of products for biological sample collection, saliva can be collected in preservative tubes which inactivate the virus, making it safe to be posted.

Dr MacSharry said that testing in this way could be done in schools or in communities that are disadvantaged to detect the presence of the virus in the whole community.

“The prevalence of your virus depends on how much times you're looking at your community so if you don't look and you don't find, your prevalence is skewed so saliva will be a useful way to find where the virus is in the community, isolate people until the virus is clear and then reduce this.

He said that more community screening is needed to “find exactly where the virus is” and that relying on people to present is not enough.

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