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University of Florida offers saliva swabs for COVID-19 testing

The University of Florida is making COVID-19 testing easier and more comfortable.
The University of Florida is making COVID-19 testing easier and more comfortable.(WCJB)
Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 5:47 AM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - The University of Florida is making COVID-19 testing easier and more comfortable.

The UF Health Screen, Test & Protect initiative on Saturday began offering saliva coronavirus testing for UF students, faculty and staff, a method of detecting the virus that is expected to largely replace nasal swabs that are inserted deep into noses. More than 250 saliva tests were administered at Broward Hall, a UF residence facility, over the weekend, and the method is expected to be expanded across all testing sites over the next few weeks.

“This gives people a simpler, less-invasive means to be tested than the nasopharyngeal swab, or what some people jokingly refer to as the brain biopsy — the deep nose swab that can be so disagreeable to many of us,” said Michael Lauzardo, M.D., M.Sc., deputy director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and a public health specialist who directs the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect initiative. Research outside of UF has recently validated the method as being as accurate and sensitive as nasal swabs. Lauzardo said UF Health Pathology Laboratories has finished its own validation of the saliva tests.

Saliva testing will come to mostly replace nasal swabs at UF Health Screen, Test & Protect testing sites, although it might take several weeks to completely ramp up. “We’re going to gradually phase it in because there are some operational considerations,” said Lauzardo. Nasal swabs, however, won’t go away completely. “Nasal swabs are still going to have a role,” Lauzardo said. “It will serve as a back-up when someone can’t produce enough saliva. And a nasal swab is required to do flu testing and coronavirus testing simultaneously. Saliva can’t do both. And that will be important if we have a significant amount of flu this winter.”

The saliva test, most of the time, will take just a little bit longer than the nasal. Test subjects will be given a test tube with a straw. They will be asked to tilt their head forward and provide a trickle of saliva that will go down the straw into the tube. For a test to be completed, 2 cubic centimeters of saliva must be collected. That amounts to less than half a teaspoon.

UF Health’s Screen, Test & Protect initiative is averaging about 1,000 coronavirus tests daily. Visit https://coronavirus.ufhealth.org/screen for more information on testing locations.

Copyright 2020 WCJB. All rights reserved.

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