Rako Science director Leon Grice says asymptomatic saliva testing could ease the burden on the nasal tests during an outbreak. Photo: Supplied

Saliva tests may be mainly useful to the ‘worried well’ and Olympians, but they can also ease pressure on the testing regime as a whole. Matthew Scott reports.

Those who dread the feeling of a swab being swivelled around their sinuses will soon have access to another option: pharmacies are about to offer saliva testing for Covid.

After buying the rights to a saliva test developed by the University of Illinois, Biotech company Rako Science is set to bring easy tests to pharmacies around the country for asymptomatic Kiwis in need of a test – including the New Zealand Olympic team.

Green Cross Health, whose chains include Unichem and Life Pharmacies, have partnered with the biotech company to provide more than 1000 tests for the Olympians before they leave for Japan, starting last week with a group on their way to Switzerland to qualify.

And today, they announced that Kiwis will be able to get saliva tests at the pharmacy, starting with a few initial outlets in two weeks’ time.

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Although the tests will suffice for those leaving the country, MIQ workers and those feeling sick will still need to opt for the swab up the nose.

Tests from the University of Illinois have found the method is at least as accurate as nasal swabs.

The Ministry of Health, however, says sensitivity of testing practices is crucial due to the low prevalence of Covid in New Zealand, and say nasal swabs continue to be “the gold standard method for diagnosis of infection with Covid-19 due to its higher sensitivity.”

“Missing a person who may be infectious through not picking up the virus through testing could result in a significant outbreak,” said a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health. “That’s why we do not always immediately adopt testing processes that are implemented in other countries where Covid is more common.”

Rako Science director Leon Grice sees the rollout as a supplement to the Ministry of Health’s successful testing regime.

The tests can provide peace of mind for those concerned about their health during an outbreak, but not necessarily experiencing any symptoms.

“Asymptomatic tests can help the ‘worried well’ who may be swamping the testing regime,” he said.

Businesses may get a better deal on their own testing regime.

People can provide a sample for a saliva test without the help of a health professional, making it easier to test on a large scale.

Saliva tests will be around 80 percent cheaper for businesses who plan to do a lot of testing.

Grice said the Green Cross pharmacy tests will be “a backbone to corporates wanting their own testing,” particularly as they have over 350 locations spread across the country.

The tests will be more expensive for the individual consumer – coming in at more than $60 per person – although Grice says they have not yet set the prices.

Green Cross Health and Equity Pharmacies GM Stephen Jones said the Green Cross pharmacies will be able to provide patients with this service as they can be found across the country.

“Our nationwide footprint means we provide support the length and breadth of New Zealand,” he said.

The saliva tests began earlier this year, with Auckland Airport running a trial in February to see if this was the best way to surveil staff for the virus.

Before rolling out the tests, Rako Science had to make sure the results agreed with those found by the University of Illinois.

“We had 100 percent agreement with their results,” Grice said. “And with those found at Victoria University of Wellington, and at our contracted lab in Parnell.”

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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