Simpler COVID-19 test could provide results in hours from saliva

Simpler COVID-19 test could provide results in hours from saliva


Scientists Roger Wiseman and Miranda Stauss process small vials of spit collected from volunteers.Volunteers at four sites in Madison are being tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 by spitting in a vial, which may prove faster, cheaper and less complicated than other common tests, according to University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers.

Scientists from UW–Madison’s AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory, a team that in recent years has also turned its attention to COVID-19 and Zika virus outbreaks as need arose, have tuned a relatively simple genetic testing process to find evidence of the novel coronavirus in saliva.

With support from a National Institutes of Health grant program that hopes to expand testing in the United States by fall, the researchers have collected hundreds of samples from volunteers at three UW–Madison sites and a local elementary school. The tests were completed in hours, a stark contrast to common wait times of several days or even weeks for results from other kinds of COVID-19 tests.

“This sort of testing, if it is successful and can be expanded, offers hope that schools and workplaces could receive rapid turnaround testing to assist in the complex decision of managing education during the outbreak with a test that is still sensitive enough to catch the people who are contagious, but exceptional in terms of accessibility, cost, and turnaround time” says David O’Connor, professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

They made their early findings available in late July in a brief study posted on medRxiv, a website for health sciences research that has not yet been peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. The test has not been approved for clinical diagnosis. The UW–Madison researchers are studying whether this type of test can be administered frequently and efficiently.


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