Top doc endorses new saliva test if approved

A woman is given a nasal swab test for COVID-19. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / dolgachov

The medical officer of health for Chatham-Kent is open to using a new COVID-19 saliva test once it has been approved by Health Canada and the province.

The test gives people the option to collect saliva samples at home and send them to a lab instead of going to the doctor or a testing site.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby said these diagnostic tests can’t be used until they get all of the necessary federal approvals. He added Public Health Ontario must also sign off on the tests before they are marketed for use and distributed across the province.

Colby admitted he doesn’t have all of the data behind the new test but does have enough knowledge to know there are still unanswered questions surrounding it.

“The limiting factor will be how sensitive it is compared to the nasopharyngeal swab. That’s always the question,” said Colby. “Molecular tests tend to be quite accurate but it’s whether they are good at picking it up or not. So, if you get a positive result it’s usually a good one unless you misapply the test to a low-frequency population.”

Colby said these types of tests usually work well and he would endorse using the test if he’s satisfied that all of the technical aspects are acceptable.

“Doing a test on saliva is certainly a lot less invasive than having a tiny, skinny swab put to the back of your nose and I think most people would rather spit into a tube than have that done,” he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a COVID-19 saliva test in May and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says a saliva test has also been approved in that province as a more comfortable alternative to nasopharyngeal swabs. B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the B.C.-made solution during a press briefing Thursday.