Since the pandemic started, it has been important to test as many people as possible for coronavirus. This helps to understand its spread. Fundraiser Sarah talks about a pilot she’s involved in that uses a rapid coronavirus test and has big ambitions.
Sarah, from Hampshire, is a nursing student taking part in an evaluation of saliva testing for coronavirus.
The pilot programme is run by Professor Keith Godfrey and colleagues at the University of Southampton’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit.
Every week it tests university students and staff, – as well as pupils and staff at four local schools, for coronavirus using a simple home-based kit.
How is saliva used for coronavirus testing?
Saliva testing is less invasive than the normal nose and throat swab, and so much more convenient to do at home. The saliva test for coronavirus is quick.
It is now clear that most coronavirus infections cause no or only very mild symptoms. But people without symptoms can still pass the virus on.
The only way to be confident as to how much virus is circulating is to test lots of people without symptoms for infection. The more people tested and the more often this is, the better.
'I’ve fundraised by running for Alzheimer’s Society in the past – my mother-in-law had vascular dementia – so I feel quite close to the cause.'
‘As a trainee nurse I’ve also got a good idea of how bad a second wave of COVID-19 could be, especially for people with dementia.'
'We all need to do whatever we can, don’t we? Getting involved in this pilot was easy for me and just another way I could help.
'Every Wednesday first thing I use a teaspoon to catch some spit and then pour that into a plastic vial that the study people post me.
'It’s a bit ‘yuk’ but I’ve taken samples from hospital patients for the standard test and it’s quite uncomfortable with the swab in their nose and throat.
'I put my vial into a pre-addressed envelope and pop it into a drop-off box when I’m in town. I get my result back from the NHS by text within a couple of days at most.'
What does the saliva pilot involve?
Samples from the programme are collected and analysed using a coronavirus ‘LAMP’ (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) test. Different from the NHS standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, LAMP can detect coronavirus genetic material within about an hour, almost on the spot.
It’s the test now being trialled at Heathrow to help passengers whose destination country needs proof of a negative result on arrival.
There are also plans to use rapid testing in care homes, possibly to check that family visitors are free from infection.
In the Southampton pilot, the details of anyone who tests positive are shared, with their consent, with NHS Track and Trace. They will need to self-isolate and help with contract tracing.
What happens next in the study?
Population testing in Hampshire using the home-based rapid saliva test is still a very active study. The researchers hope that their findings will be widely applicable.
Professor Godfrey says, ‘What we learn from the Southampton COVID-19 Testing Programme will inform national policy and coronavirus control measures elsewhere across the country.’
Regular accessible testing, across educational as well as perhaps business and community settings, may make it possible to detect earlier who is and who isn’t infected. In turn, this may give enough confidence to avoid wholesale site closures.
Would you like to take part in other research studies?
Join Dementia Research helps people with dementia, their carers, or anyone interested in dementia research to be matched to studies taking place in their area.