Asia Minute: Regional Scientists Pursue Improved “Spit Test” for COVID-19

Jun 29, 2020

Testing for the COVID-19 virus will soon become a big focus for Hawai’i’s hospitality industry. The most common test still involves some momentary discomfort, but scientists in Asia are working on an easier approach.

Even if you haven’t taken a COVID-19 test yourself, you’ve probably seen the pictures. The most common test looks uncomfortable — a long swab up the nose.

Scientists in Singapore are among those working on a test that’s based on saliva. The government has announced it’s looking at the so-called “spit test” as a way to expand the reach of testing and increase its speed.

Hong Kong uses saliva testing. And research is continuing in several parts of the world.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved one version for “emergency use” but critics say this type of testing is not yet fully reliable.

Earlier this month, Japan’s government approved a new saliva test in certain cases on patients who have had symptoms for up to nine days. While that’s useful in a clinical environment, it doesn’t really help at a place like an airport — or testing those without symptoms.

Researchers at Nihon University and Tokyo Medical University are awaiting government approval for the next step in their latest saliva test, which they say provides accurate results in half in an hour.

Other studies on the reliability of saliva tests are underway or have been recently completed in Hong Kong, Shenzhen China and Italy.

And lab research continues across Asia and around the world on developing an improved saliva test.