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Shenandoah University conducting pooled saliva testing for COVID-19

16 October 2020 Covid19 Winchester News

Shenandoah University (SU) is conducting its own SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing through the use of pooled saliva samples, making it only one of a handful of universities in the country to do so.

The university has been doing surveillance testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, since the start of the academic year, according to a news release from SU.

Now, through Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy, the university is expanding its SARS-CoV-2 surveillance testing program for asymptomatic individuals through pooled saliva samples, especially in high-contact populations such as student-athletes, residential students and conservatory students.

Saliva is a less-expensive, non-invasive, and safer sample collection method compared to nasopharyngeal swabs. Viral loads are also higher in saliva compared to nasal swabs.

SU performed its first round of surveillance testing using pooled saliva the week of Sept. 14. To date, SU has tested more than 800 students using this method, and more than 2,000 students total (saliva and nasopharyngeal combined).

Surveillance testing is used to monitor for the incidence and prevalence of a community- or population-level occurrence of COVID-19, such as an outbreak. This involves randomly sampling asymptomatic individuals.

For pooled saliva testing, SU community members (faculty/staff/students) are chosen randomly and are notified a week in advance to report to specific places at specific times to provide a small saliva sample. The entire process is contactless, takes fewer than five minutes to complete, and is free of charge.

An individual’s saliva is then mixed together, or pooled, with saliva samples of three to four other people at the university. Through polymerase chain reaction (PCR), faculty at the Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy can detect the virus using primers designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Testing occurs at the Health Professions Building on the Winchester Medical Center campus. Testing results can be returned in as few as six hours.

When a saliva pool tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, then Shenandoah pharmacy faculty test each sample in the pool individually. The individual(s) who are identified as presumptive positive for the virus are then contacted and referred to get a clinical diagnostic test.

Pooled saliva testing allows for one SARS-CoV-2 test to be administered on up to five individuals, thus increasing the number of people the university can test, while saving on the amount of reagents needed and the cost of testing. In-house pooled saliva testing costs the university about $2 per person.

SU can currently test 320 students, faculty or staff each week, and expects to increase that number significantly in the weeks ahead.

For more news from across the Shenandoah Valley, click here. 

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