Background & objectives: Nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swab (NPS and OPS) collection is widely accepted as the preferred method for obtaining respiratory samples. However, it has certain disadvantages which may be overcome by gargling. The primary objective of this study was to assess agreement between gargle lavage and swab as an appropriate respiratory sample for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. The secondary objective was to assess the patient acceptability of the two sampling methods.
Methods: It was a cross-sectional study done at a tertiary care hospital in New Delhi, India, on 50 confirmed COVID-19 patients. Paired swab (NPS and OPS) and gargle samples were taken within 72 h of their diagnosis. Samples were processed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for detection of SARS-CoV-2. Post-sample collection, a 10-point scale was administered to assess the level of discomfort with either of the collection methods.
Results: All gargle samples were positive and comparable to their corresponding swab samples irrespective of the symptoms and duration of illness. The cycle threshold (Ct) values for gargle samples were slightly higher but comparable to those of swabs. Bland-Altman plot showed good agreement between the two methods. Majority (72%) of the patients reported moderate-to-severe discomfort with swab collection in comparison to 24 per cent reporting only mild discomfort with gargle collection.
Interpretation & conclusions: Our preliminary results show that the gargle lavage may be a viable alternative to swabs for sample collection for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. Adoption of gargle lavage for sample collection will have a significant impact as it will enable easy self-collection, relieve healthcare workers and also lead to substantial cost savings by reducing the need for swabs and personal protective equipment.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; gargle lavage; nasopharyngeal swab; oropharyngeal swab.