MUSC launches COVID-19 saliva test

Charleston County News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – MUSC on Thursday announced that they will begin offering saliva-based diagnostic COVID-19 tests on a preliminarily limited basis.

Currently, “symptomatic ambulatory patients” will be prioritized for the testing. Those interested in receiving a test can visit, and established patients can visit MUSC MyChart to make an appointment.

Dr. Julie Hirschhorn with MUSC said reason they are starting with symptomatic patients is to eventually be able to detect the virus in asymptomatic patients.

If you think about how the virus replicates, symptomatic patients will have the highest viral load in their saliva. And so, that’s the population we feel the sensitivity for the test is the highest at this point in time and therefore it’s the best starting point.  

Dr. Julie Hirschhorn, MUSC 

MUSC acknowledged the uncertainty around saliva testing, as it is in early phases. However, MUSC emphasized that “the saliva tests used at MUSC Health underwent a rigorous validation process before becoming available to patients.”

Additionally, “high levels of sensitivity and accuracy were reported for the MUSC Health saliva test.”

It is important for patients to understand that at this point, the saliva test is not a rapid test and “results must be processed within a clinical laboratory.” Results will be available within the same time frame as the current nasal test, between 24 and 72 hours.

MUSC will continue conducting nasal swabs in tandem wil saliva testing.

Saliva testing is helpful because “saliva is much easier to collect for the patient and providers involved, so it provides another tool in the testing tool box.”

MUSC is working to establish rapid point-of-care saliva testing.

The cost of the test will be sent to insurance carriers, and “insured patients will not have an outstanding balance for this test.”

The University said they also are working to lower the cost for the test as they continue validate it.

We wanted to validate the existing protocols in the country that was being followed by other universities and then we started off with validating saliva testing with available protocols. And then we started improving that protocol in a way that we can increase sensitivity and then also try to bring down the overall cost of the test. For example, so that this can be distributed in a much larger scale.  

Dr. Vamsi Gangaraju, MUSC 

As of now, there is no concrete date their saliva-based diagnostic test will be distributed and utilized on a mass scale.

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