Doctors say COVID-19 saliva tests are best used for ‘surveillance not diagnostics’

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – On Monday, the University of South Carolina announced their initiative to supply a saliva based test to faculty, students, and staff. Now, more schools are looking to implement that same initiative, however medical professionals have advised that that test is not so much for diagnosing COVID-19 as it is for keeping a surveillance on the virus.  

According to Dr. Danielle Scheurer, the Chief Quality Officer at the Medical University of South Carolina, it’s an easier—more cost efficient—and less invasive way to detect the virus with asymptomatic carriers. These factors are the reasons why she believes that many large universities are turning towards saliva testing.

So it’s not exactly a diagnostic test—you’re not trying to diagnosis whether someone does or doesn’t have COVID—you’re trying to do a surveillance of who in this sea of 2,500 students is harboring COVID and doesn’t know it. 

Dr. Danielle Scheurer, Chief Quality Officer Musc

Dr. Scheurer explained the test by example. She said, “If you apparently got exposed—you may not even know you were exposed—you haven’t had a lick of symptoms but somehow someway you are growing that virus in the back of your throat and don’t even know it and that there is some risk of spread—we don’t know the exact risk of spread but there is some risk of spread. That’s what you’re trying to detect.”

But of course, the highest chance of detection for any COVID-19 test are when symptoms are being shown. Therefore, Dr. Scheurer believes that screening for pre-symptoms will prove to be a difficult task.  

So you are going to miss some—but if you’re doing frequent screening—you’re probably going to catch them 3 to 5 days later. So even if they still haven’t developed symptoms—their viral load is probably higher and you’re more likely to detect them if you screen them again. So that’s sort of the concept of take a test—make it really easy—give it to a lot of people really frequently and you’re still going to accomplish your goal of limiting widespread outbreaks  

Dr. Danielle Scheurer, Chief Quality Officer Musc

The Medical University said they too are working on their own saliva testing with their PCR machines and are very close to completing both surveillance for the virus and as well as for diagnosing COVID-19.

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