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'Less intrusive' coronavirus saliva tests could be rolled out in more Victorian settings, Health Minister says

ABC Health logo ABC Health 8/10/2020
a man standing in a room: The nasal/throat swabs are still seen as the gold standard for coronavirus testing across Australia. (ABC News: Simon Tucci) © Provided by ABC News The nasal/throat swabs are still seen as the gold standard for coronavirus testing across Australia. (ABC News: Simon Tucci)

Victoria's Health Minister says a "less intrusive" but "equally effective" coronavirus saliva test could be rolled out in more settings by the end of the year.

Research by the Doherty Institute in Melbourne has found the saliva tests could be an equivalent alternative to the nasal and throat swab commonly used to detect the virus.

A pilot test program was rolled out at three police stations in September and tested 1,000 asymptomatic officers for two weeks, finding two positive results.

Health Minister Martin Foley said the results of the trials at the police stations in Bendigo, Melbourne's CBD and Dandenong showed the saliva test was "looking very good".

The saliva tests will be used as part of a mass coronavirus surveillance program of high-risk workplaces, which began this week.

Other high-risk workplaces such as meat, poultry and seafood processing, and the supermarket and refrigerated distribution sectors, will be required to test 25 per cent of the workforce each week using a standard nasal swab.

The Government has said there will be 200 saliva tests conducted at Hazeldenes poultry farm on the outskirts of Bendigo from next week.

"That will be less intrusive but equally effective as the current standard PCR test," Mr Foley said.

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While health authorities have continued to urge anyone with symptoms to isolate and be tested, the workplace surveillance program targets asymptomatic workers.

Those without symptoms are not required to isolate after the test.

Mr Foley said it was hoped the saliva tests would make it easier for workers to participate.

"We're hopeful that [saliva tests] will increasingly become part of the options that our testing teams have right across the state, probably by the end of the year," he said.

Saliva tests 'probably fairly equal' to nasal swabs: DCHO

The saliva tests have been used since late June. At that time, Doherty Institute research found the saliva test had a sensitivity of about 87 per cent, meaning the nasal swabs remained the "gold standard".

Different sample collection and testing methods are being used this time around, the institute says, and the test results have so far been positive.

The police station trials found the preferred method of saliva testing was a swab that people suck under their tongue for five seconds.

"There had been concern that there wasn't as much virus present in saliva as there was when you take a nasal swab, but obviously the Doherty [Institute] and other researchers around the world have been refining that," Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said.

"And now it's probably fairly equal, so we can get equivalent results from saliva as from a nasal test."

The saliva samples are analysed using the same polymerase chain reaction (PCR) systems as the nasal and throat swabs most commonly used in Australia.

The Government says more than 95 per cent of test results are returned in under 24 hours in Victoria.

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