Mass Screening of Asymptomatic Persons for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Using Saliva

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Aug 2;73(3):e559-e565. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa1388.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has rapidly evolved to become a global pandemic, largely owing to the transmission of its causative virus through asymptomatic carriers. Detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in asymptomatic people is an urgent priority for the prevention and containment of disease outbreaks in communities. However, few data are available in asymptomatic persons regarding the accuracy of polymerase chain reaction testing. In addition, although self-collected saliva samples have significant logistical advantages in mass screening, their utility as an alternative specimen in asymptomatic persons is yet to be determined.

Methods: We conducted a mass screening study to compare the utility of nucleic acid amplification, such as reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction testing, using nasopharyngeal swab (NPS) and saliva samples from each individual in 2 cohorts of asymptomatic persons: the contact-tracing cohort and the airport quarantine cohort.

Results: In this mass screening study including 1924 individuals, the sensitivities of nucleic acid amplification testing with NPS and saliva specimens were 86% (90% credible interval, 77%-93%) and 92% (83%-97%), respectively, with specificities >99.9%. The true concordance probability between the NPS and saliva tests was estimated at 0.998 (90% credible interval, .996-.999) given the recent airport prevalence of 0.3%. In individuals testing positive, viral load was highly correlated between NPS and saliva specimens.

Conclusion: Both NPS and saliva specimens had high sensitivity and specificity. Self-collected saliva specimens are valuable for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in mass screening of asymptomatic persons.

Keywords: COVID-19; LAMP; PCR; SARS-CoV-2; saliva.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Saliva
  • Specimen Handling