Saliva vs Nasal Covid Tests: Advantages May Go Beyond Just Comfort 

You're experiencing symptoms for COVID-19 and need to take a test - but which one? When it comes to the Omicron variant, new research shows saliva PCR tests could be your best option for accurate results.

Two preprint studies, not yet peer reviewed, looked into the ability of nasal rapid tests vs. saliva PCR tests to detect the Omicron variant. In the first study, researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and Downstate Medical found that among the 30 people tested, the nasal rapid antigen test detected the infection a day later than the saliva PCR. 

"Notably, viral load in the saliva peaked in a subset of five patients in the first 1-2 days -before the nasal rapid antigen tests even showed a positive test," the study mentions

This small study comes on the back of another that just found rapid antigen tests were unable to detect the Omicron variant in the first two to three days, during its most infectious period. 

"We observed people being infectious and confirmed that they were transmitting to other people during that high early saliva viral load period, before a nasal swab detected the virus,” said study author Blythe Adamson, PhD, MPH.

The second preprint study comes from researchers in South Africa who compared saliva and nasal swab tests for  the Omicron and Delta variants. Their findings showed that while the nasal swab was better at detecting the Delta variant,there was more viral shedding in the mouth than in the nose with Omicron.

With Omicron making up close to 95% of COVID cases in the United States, the World Health Organization (WHO) says cases are "off the charts" as infection rates hit new records.

So is it time to change testing methods?

While some scientists believe this isn't enough research to make drastic changes, others believe this could be the sign we need to transition to saliva testing.

"One thing in this pandemic that we've learned is we've made too many mistakes by sitting on our butts," said Eric Feigl-Ding, ScD, and epidemiologist with the Federation of American Scientists. "Some people are like, 'Well, we should follow the rules.' But the rules have always been many, many steps behind the science and the curve and the emerging evidence."

To combat the rising numbers of COVID-19, New York biotech company Quadrant Biosciences is offering free PCR saliva testing across the state. The Clarifi COVID-19 Saliva Test is a simple, non-invasive self collection swab. This saliva test is the most sensitive saliva test on the market. Significantly, tests with higher sensitivity typically result in fewer false negatives. 

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