In an Australian first, saliva testing has been deployed in Melbourne’s coronavirus hotspots as the state recorded its highest day of COVID-19 cases in almost three months.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the less-invasive method had been used on residents in the Keilor Downs area as early as Sunday – where more than 100 were processed.
The original test involves swabs being taken from the nasal passage and back of the throat.
But the new saliva test, developed by the Doherty Institute, requires less protective equipment and can be administered by each person themselves.
“It’s a more pleasant experience than the current test,” Premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday.
“It won’t completely replace the current test or the time it takes the laboratory to process it, but it will certainly reduce the amount of time it takes to get the sample.”
Andrews said he hoped the new method would see testing, particularly in hotel quarantine, increase to 100 per cent.
‘Slightly less accurate’
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said both the saliva and nose and throat swabs were examined using the same PCR test in the laboratory.
“By the time it gets to the laboratory, it is run exactly the same way as the nose and throat swab,” he told The News on Monday.
“It is just a more comfortable specimen to be taken of course.”
However, he did warn, as many other experts have, that the test was “slightly less accurate” – missing positive results in up to 13 per cent of cases.
“(The nose and throat swab) is still the preferred way of getting a specimen but if it is something that if you really don’t want to do, a saliva test is an option,” he said.
On Thursday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced a testing blitz would be launched in 10 suburbs with the worst community transmission in the state.
They are Broadmeadows, Keilor Downs, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.
The aim is to test 50 per cent of each of the affected suburbs. But in order to do so, a larger testing capacity is needed.
How it works
Those who opt for the saliva test are given a test kit including a container, a specimen bag and form.
They are then required to complete the form and wash or sanitise their hands before filling a container with 2ml of saliva, or enough to cover the base of the jar.
The Department of Health suggests those collect saliva in their mouth for at least one minute before depositing the sample into the container.
It is then sealed, and submitted for examination.