MUSC Health Saliva Testing for COVID-19

Technician placing swap in test tube

MUSC Health is offering COVID-19 diagnostic saliva testing to ambulatory patients in Charleston, Florence and Lancaster division communities. Access to this testing option is available through musc.care and for established patients through MUSC MyChart. At this time, MUSC Health is prioritizing symptomatic ambulatory patients for saliva PCR-based testing. Results will be available in MyChart within 24 to 72 hours. Testing is available at select locations in the Charleston, Florence and Lancaster divisions and by appointment only. The test is not a “rapid” point-of-care test and results must be processed within a clinical laboratory. The cost of the test will be billed to insurance carriers. Based on the recent CARES Act, insured patients will not have an outstanding balance for this test.

Saliva testing for COVID-19 is in its early phases. Various published and unpublished evaluations of saliva collection testing methods have yielded vastly different testing characteristics compared to nasal pharyngeal (NP) swab tests. Sensitivity can vary greatly across tests, which is why MUSC has worked diligently to validate saliva testing before implementation.

The saliva tests used at MUSC Health underwent a rigorous validation process before becoming available to patients. This critical step compared it to the “gold standard” NP swab tests used within the clinical laboratories at MUSC since the pandemic began. High levels of sensitivity and accuracy were reported for the MUSC Health saliva test, thanks to continued interdisciplinary collaboration and expertise sharing among clinical care and bench research teams.

Hundreds of companies have developed early phase saliva tests and more are coming on the market every day. There is no perfect test, but MUSC Health is committed to offering the best ones available. As MUSC Health validates and makes COVID-19 saliva testing more widely available, it is important to make sure individuals understand the details related to saliva testing:

  • Saliva is much easier to collect for the patient and providers involved, so it provides another tool in the testing tool box.
  • NP swabbing and saliva based testing will continue in parallel at MUSC and take about the same amount of time to process; one method does not replace another.
  • MUSC Health is pursuing point-of-care “rapid” saliva-based testing, but it is not available at this time.
  • PCR-based saliva testing is not necessarily faster in terms of time to process results within the lab, nor is it less expensive to process than NP swab testing.