Japan approves new, safer saliva PCR test for medical personnel

Tokyo, June 2 (efe-epa).- The Government of Japan approved Tuesday the use of a new type of PCR test based on patients’ saliva samples, with which it aims to expand the total number of tests performed and reduce the risk of contagion for medical personnel.

The new tests will be covered by public health insurance and will be performed on patients who have had symptoms of COVID-19 for up to nine days, the period during which the virus remains detectable in the saliva of those infected, as announced by this Tuesday the Japanese Ministry of Health.

This method “will significantly ease the burden on both patients and institutions collecting samples, by alleviating the risk of infection,” Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference.

The most widely used method for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) requires a nasopharyngeal sample taken by medical personnel, which carries a risk of coughing or sneezing from the patient and the consequent potential exposure to the virus for healthcare workers.

For the new tests, patients must place a saliva sample in a container and deliver it to healthcare personnel, according to the Japanese minister, who also noted that the reliability of this test is comparable to that based on nasopharyngeal samples.

The minister did not detail to what extent this new method will be deployed and how it will impact the total number of tests carried out, after the criticism that the Japanese authorities have received for carrying out tests on a smaller scale than other countries.

Japan has carried out more than 292,000 PCR tests to date, and has registered 19,949 infections and 898 deaths from COVID-19, according to the latest available data.

During the month of May, around 5,000 daily PCR tests were performed on average, a number that is limited by the shortage of PCR kits with sufficient precision, the need to equip medical personnel with gloves and protective glasses, and the strategy not to overload the health system, according to the Ministry.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to significantly increase the volume of tests nationwide on May 24, when he announced the lifting of the coronavirus health alert across the country.

The executive branch has also given the green light to other methods to expand its capabilities in this regard, including a rapid antigen test that uses nasopharyngeal samples as the most common PCR, although with less precision than those tests.

In addition, the Ministry of Health began this Monday to take about 10,000 blood samples throughout the country to analyze the presence of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, an initiative aimed at estimating the number of asymptomatic infections and studying if there is collective immunity. EFE-EPA


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