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[COVID-19 Update]: University of Illinois’ Improved Saliva-Test Approach; ICMR Backs Gargle Lavages Over Nasal Swabs; Vaccine Update

Scientists are researching on saliva-testing to enable quick and efficient testing strategies.

About nine months after the first case, COVID-19 continues to ravage the world even today. With the number of cases increasing by leaps and bounds, aggressive testing has become essential. However, an insufficient number of quality testing kits, the shortage of healthcare personnel, prohibitive costs, among other factors, have imposed considerable restrictions on widespread testing. This has made it imperative to improve the testing capability to keep up with the spread of the virus. 

New Saliva Test For COVID-19 Is Fast and Less-Risky

The most widely implemented method of collecting specimens is through nasopharyngeal swabs. However, these swabs can be a long and invasive process. Moreover, a poorly-executed swab can also result in inaccurate results. To tackle these issues, frontline researchers are toiling day and night to develop alternative methods for effective testing to keep a check on the spread of the virus. 

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has developed a new saliva-based COVID-19 testing approach adhering to the saliva-based testing protocol which has been approved by FDA Emergency Use Authorization.

One of the biggest issues with traditional testing is that the results are produced in a relatively long time. So there is a risk of people spreading the virus to others until they receive the reports. Naturally, the faster people are notified about the results of the test, the faster they can start taking precautions against spreading it. This is why quick testing is of utmost importance. 

The test called I-COVID produces results in hours, irrespective of the volume of testing. The University of Illinois has already conducted 50,000 tests to date. In addition to this, the university will conduct 20,000 tests a day once the fall semester commences on 24th August. 

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A team member, Dr. Martin Burke, stated:

Direct saliva testing can address bottlenecks of time, cost, and supplies. Our test also has unique features that enable fast and frequent testing on a large scale, and we are now working together with many partners to make our testing method broadly available as soon as possible.

The virus in the sample is inactivated without opening any tubes. The inactivation takes place at 95 °C. This reduces the risk of exposure considerably. 

Robert J. Jones, Chancellor at the University of Illinois, proudly stated:

The bridge to FDA Emergency Use Authorization is extremely exciting and important news for all of us in this pandemic. This is a critical new tool that we believe will let communities scale up their COVID-19 testing capabilities more rapidly in ways that are more affordable.

ICMR Says Gargle Testing A Good Alternative To Nasal Swabs

A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has stated that gargling can be as effective as swabbing for COVID-19 sample testing.

The ACE2 receptors found on our cells are the medium through which the SARS-CoV-2 virus gains entry into the cell. When we lay horizontally, the upper respiratory tract secretes downwards, and the lower one secretes upwards, meeting the upper tract’s secretion in the middle of the throat. Thus, when one gargles, the liquid absorbs the virus from this part of the throat. A previous study published by Yale School of Medicine showed that the results obtained from saliva were more accurate than nasopharyngeal swabs. 

Perhaps the biggest advantage of gargle testing is how quick and convenient it is. 1-2 ml of saliva or 10ml of salt dispersed in sterile water is to be spit in a sputum cup or sterile urine. A sputum cup can be used as a sterile container. This entire process costs only about ₹15. 

Another advantage is the fact that since it can be self-collected, saliva or gargled samples circumvent the need for skilled health workers at collection centers, minimizing their exposure risk, and reducing PPE use. Gargle testing is also an alternative to swabbing when dealing with false negatives and repeated testing, as these are relatively cost-effective. 

Vaccine Update

It looks like we are getting close to the finish lines of the vaccine race. Johnson & Johnson, one of the leading companies in the vaccine race, revealed that its vaccine would be tested on 60,000 people in the Phase 3 trials. This is the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate that will be tested on such a huge number. The company is expecting to commence the Phase-3 clinical trials in September. 

Russia, on the other hand, will conduct the Phase-3 trials on 40,000 people. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), in a detailed report, stated that the testing would be done in over 45 locations. The Phase-3 trials are expected to begin next week.

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Muskan Bagrecha
Muskan is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor's in Technology. With a zealous spirit for writing, she finds herself open to the vast realm of learning. She is an avid programmer with a keen interest in technology and science.


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