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Easier, less invasive COVID-19 testing coming to Utah

(Photo Credit: University of Utah Health)

SALT LAKE COUNTY – Changes are coming to COVID-19 testing sites run by the University of Utah and ARUP.  They’re switching to a saliva sample-based test, which they say is safer and not nearly as invasive as the nasal swabs they currently use. 

Researchers at ARUP and University of Utah Health used samples from over 360 volunteers getting tested for the virus.  Each patient was asked to go through three separate exams to see which was most effective.

  1. The traditional nasal swab performed by a lab technician
  2. A nasal swab self-collected by the patient
  3. A self-collected saliva sample

Researchers say the results from the self-collected nasal swabs were not as effective as the other methods.  However, the University of Utah Infectious Disease Doctor Kimberly Hanson says the results were very promising from the saliva samples.

She says, “Saliva looks to be just as effective as the standard deep swabs.”

If you have ever been tested for COVID-19 or for the flu, you know how uncomfortable the test can be.  A lab technician shoves a long swab all the way back into your nose. 

The technician has to be close to the potentially infected patient, and the test makes many people cough or gag.  However, with a saliva sample, the lab worker can wait behind plexiglass while the patient simply spits into a tube with the testing solution inside.

“It’s easier to collect and it’s probably safer for the health care worker as well because spitting saliva into a tube is less likely to generate infectious aerosols,” Hanson says.

With this new kind of testing, lab workers won’t have to wear heavy layers of personal protective equipment according to ARUP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julio Delgado.  The results of their shared study have been peer-reviewed ad published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology

However, Delgado says there likely won’t be a home version of this test.

“At this point, the FDA only authorizes saliva testing if the sample is collected in a health care facility or is being observed by a health care worker,” he says.

The new testing system isn’t quite ready for the general public.  Doctor Richard Orlandi with the University of Utah Health says they expect to have it ready to go by mid-September, at the latest.

“We anticipate having this in the next two to three weeks available at our testing sites,” says Orlandi.



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