MUSC working to get saliva COVID test approved by FDA

Updated: Aug. 27, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Medical University of South Carolina, one of the top COVID testers in the state, could soon be replacing nasal swab testing with saliva testing in many cases.

Right now, the hospital’s labs are working on getting saliva testing to perform at the same or similar rates as the nasal swab test, Chief Quality Officer Dr. Danielle Scheurer said. If they can do this, then they would need to gain approval from the FDA to utilize saliva for clinical testing.

“The reason there’s a lot of discussion around this and trying to get this right is because it’s so much easier than the traditional collection method,” Scheurer said.

A person being tested for the virus would just need to spit in a container, but until they get approval to use it widely, MUSC is having patients also get a nasal swab test.

“We’re doing both because we’re doing all the validations, but in the future it could one or the other,” Scheurer said. “Some people will still require the nasal sample if they can’t spit for whatever reason or can’t produce sufficient spit. But, I do think most of them could be transitioned over to saliva.”

Scheurer said this transition to saliva testing could happen in a matter of weeks.

“We definitely want to beat flu season,” she said. “It’s going to be very hard to distinguish clinically patients who have the flu and patients who have COVID. We’re going to need to do a lot more testing than we’re doing now when we introduce flu into the mix.”

Their labs are also working to replicate a saliva test that got granted emergency use authorization by the FDA last week.

“It doesn’t need the same re-agents and swabs that have been the limiting steps to create testing at scale in this country. It really could be a game changer if we can deploy it,” Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, epidemiologist and public health expert, said.

“I guess the only caveat is or pause I would put is there’s still no perfect test,” Scheurer said. “We still do consider nasal swab with the PCR test to be the gold standard. So, if someone has a lot of symptoms and you really need to know if they do or don’t have COVID that will remain the gold standard test for the foreseeable future.”

Scheurer also added the turnaround times for results from the saliva test will remain the same as the nasal swab test. It’s still taking on average three days.

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