Gargle test for COVID-19 works for adults as well as children, researcher says

VANCOUVER — One of the researchers who helped develop B.C.’s new gargle test for COVID-19 says it works for adults as well as children.

While the standard test involves pushing a swab deep into a patient’s nasal cavity – a process that can be uncomfortable, particularly for young children – the new method only requires people to gargle saline for about 30 seconds and then spit it into a tube.

And while the gargle test is currently only available for children and teenagers, Dr. David Goldfarb said the goal is to eventually allow everyone to use it.

“We’re focusing right now on back to school, and making sure that this improves access and makes it less of a difficult experience for children,” Goldfarb said in an interview with CTV Morning Live on Friday. “And we’re hoping to scale this up eventually to potentially offer it to adults as well.”

Goldfarb is a microbiologist at BC Children’s Hospital who led the work to develop and evaluate the new test. He said researchers determined it to be approximately as effective as the nasopharyngeal swab test that’s been the standard throughout the pandemic.

“The sample type that we’ve developed, the gargle sample, it really samples the entire mouth and back of your mouth, which is … right next to where the swab goes,” Goldfarb said.

Researchers compared test results in both children and adults, and found the rate of detection “was very similar between the nasopharyngeal swab and this new gargle method.” The turnaround time for results is also the same.

The gargle test was announced Thursday by B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who said it’s already available at testing centre across the province. For now, it’s only being administered to people between the ages of four and 19.

Parents should know that people aren’t allowed to eat, drink, chew gum or brush their teeth for at least one hour before taking a gargle test.

Henry said officials hope the non-invasive method will encourage families to get their children tested as soon as possible when they begin showing symptoms, which will help keep schools operating safely.

“Taking the step to get tested is how you protect your friends, your family and your community,” she said.

Countries around the world have been looking for easier methods of sample collection, given that the swab needs to be applied by a health professional. Goldfarb said there has already been some interest in their made-in-B.C. gargle test, which can potentially be done at home.

“We’ve already provided our material on an open-source format so others can try to do the same thing in their programs,” Goldfarb added.

A B.C. company is also producing the collection tubes, which officials said will reduce the province’s reliance on global supply chains.

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