Research

Could schools benefit from a saliva test for COVID-19?

coronavirus graphic

A new study investigates the effectiveness of a saliva test for detecting COVID-19 in children, which may be helpful in the school setting.

Considering the reopening of schools, understanding and preventing COVID-19 transmission is particularly important.  At this point in time, the majority of young children are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19.1,2

Additionally, children that contract COVID-19 often experience milder symptoms or an absence of symptoms altogether.3 As a result, COVID-19-positive children without symptoms may not know that they have it and may be more likely to spread it throughout schools or communities.3,4  In schools, where children may not be socially distancing, effective diagnostic tools may help prevent transmission.2

One type of COVID-19 test that is used less frequently than PCR tests or antigen tests is antibody tests.  Antibody tests detect antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus; this can help predict whether someone was exposed to the virus. 

Current antibody tests may be difficult to administer in a school environment, as they typically require blood samples.  For this reason, some researchers are investigating whether COVID-19 antibodies can be reliably detected in saliva; if so, this could potentially lead to the development of better COVID-19 antibody saliva tests. 

One study performed in summer schools in Barcelona, Spain, tested the effectiveness of a new COVID-19 antibody saliva test when estimating the COVID-19 transmission rates in the study group.2  The findings were published in BMC Medicine.2  

The study group consisted of 396 adults and 1509 children in 22 summer schools and 2 pre-schools in Barcelona, Spain.2  They received weekly COVID-19 saliva antibody tests from June 29, 2020, to July 31, 2020.2  The tests were evaluated in-lab to determine the presence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.2

The study found that the saliva test was able to effectively detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in both children and adults.2  This new data could potentially lead to further research on detecting antibodies through a saliva test for COVID-19.

Saliva tests are easier to administer on a large scale in school settings, and they can usually be performed without a qualified healthcare professional, unlike a blood test.  More research is needed to determine whether saliva tests for COVID-19 might be a good strategy to track and prevent the spread of the virus. 

References

  1. COVID-19 Vaccines Advice (2021, November 15). COVID-19 advice for the public: Getting vaccinated. World Health Organization (WHO). Accessed 2021, November 29, from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines/advice
  2. Dobano, C., Alonso, S., et al (2021). Antibody conversion rates to SARS-CoV-2 in saliva from children attending summer schools in Barcelona, Spain. BMC Medicine 19(309). Doi: 10.1186/s12916-021-02184-1
  3. Molteni, E., Sudre, C.H., Canas, L.S., et al (2021, October 1). Illness duration and symptom profile in symptomatic UK school-aged children tested for SARS-CoV-2. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 5(10): 708-718. Doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(21)00198-X
  4. Cruz, A.T., Zeichner, S.L. (2020). COVID-19 in Childern: Initial Characterization of the Pediatric Disease. Pediatrics 145(6): e20200834. Doi: 10.1542/peds.2020-0834
  5. Image by chiplanay from Pixabay 

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