Simple saliva test could reveal who had COVID-19, Hopkins scientists say

Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

Johns Hopkins scientists say they are testing a new method of identifying people who ever had the coronavirus using a simple saliva test.

The so-called antibody test is not the only system in the works to use saliva or a drop of blood in place of a full blood draw in a lab, and not even the only one being studied at Hopkins. Another one would use a common glucose monitor to find people who were infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

But researchers say systems that are accurate, cheap and convenient are needed to understand where outbreaks have occurred and plan for vaccine distribution. They are also needed to uncover how long antibodies last and provide some protection from reinfection.

The team from Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health said their system accurately detected antibodies in about two dozen people in the two weeks following infection. Results were available in hours.

The study appears online in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

“If our saliva-based assay’s accuracy is borne out in larger studies, this noninvasive approach could make it easier to identify, at a population level, who has already had a SARS-CoV-2 infection and where gaps in seropositivity remain heading into the winter and beyond,” said Christopher D. Heaney, the study’s senior author and an associate professor in the departments of environmental health and engineering, epidemiology, and international health.

“This could inform targeted vaccination efforts and, after vaccines start to roll out, help figure out how long vaccine-induced antibodies last—all without repeated, invasive blood draws.”

He said million of infections have been reported, but researchers suspect there are many more than have gone undetected.

The method using saliva has been used to identify other viral infections, including norovirus and hepatitis E. Researchers have begun working with federal regulators to get emergency use authorization or approval for the coronavirus test.


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