Alfred physician, NSW health chief officer discourage coronavirus saliva testing

Saliva testing for COVID-19 being used in Victoria has been labelled “too inaccurate” and “not as good as throat swabs” by New South Wales’ chief health officer and Melbourne researchers.

Developed by scientists at Victoria’s Doherty Institute, the saliva test has already replaced the traditional nasal swab in Melbourne’s suburban blitz with more than 100 residents in Keilor Downs among the first to be tested.

While Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin hinted at the saliva test potentially becoming a “home-based” coronavirus test in future, questions remain about how effective the test really is.

“The test was first validated on 600 specimens collected at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and actually performed well but not as well as the throat swab,” Professor Lewin told reporters yesterday.

The Doherty Institute found nasal and throat swabs were 95 per cent accurate, while saliva was between 84.6 per cent and 87 per cent.

“The advantage of the saliva test of course is that it’s much more acceptable for people to give a specimen,” Prof Lewin said.

“People just need to collect saliva in their mouth for a minute or two and then spit it into a small jar, and then that small jar gets sent off to the laboratory.”

Prof Lewin saliva tests could be “home-based tests” in the future.

“You could take this test at home and send it in, that would be the perfect outcome, but there is still a bit of work to go,” she said.

But Alfred Health infectious diseases epidemiology professor Allen Cheng told NCA NewsWire people should still opt for throat swabs.

“Saliva testing is not as good as throat swabs,” he said.

“If you can be tested by throat or nose then you should. Saliva testing should only be a last resort but is more accessible and can help break down the barrier in getting more people tested.”

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant told a parliamentary inquiry yesterday the saliva test would not be used across the state because it was not accurate enough.

Victoria recorded 75 new cases of coronavirus yesterday, an increase of 24 on Sunday’s figures.

The Doherty Institute has been approached for comment.



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