First Saliva Test For Covid-19 Earns Fda Approval

August 3, 2020

With the new coronavirus wreaking havoc in the United States, mental health is taking a back seat to physical health. It’s imperative to make sure hospitals aren’t overwhelmed and save as many lives as possible.

Schools close, telecommuting becomes the norm, restaurants close, and meetings with friends are no longer possible. The news spins cyclically, with story after story highlighting the increase in cases and deaths while unemployment soars to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Any one of these changes could lead to an increase in mental health problems. Together, these factors create a perfect storm for a crisis.

Experts speculate as much, and polls show that many people seem to intuitively grasp the mental toll of this epidemic. Yet there is little data on mental health indicators, and we don’t know the extent to which mental health problems are changing, or which groups are suffering more than others.

So I decided to collect data on mental health during the epidemic and compare it to data from before everything happened. The difference was even worse than I had anticipated.

A generational divide
On April 27, I surveyed 2,032 U.S. adults, using a standard measure of mental distress that asks, for example, how often respondents have felt sad or stressed in the past month. I compared those responses to a demographically similar sample of 19,330 from a 2018 government-sponsored survey of U.S. adults that asked the same questions.

The results were alarming.Participants in 2020 were eight times more likely to screen positive for a serious mental illness – 28%, compared to 3.4% in the 2018 survey. The vast majority of 2020 participants, 70 percent, met the criteria for moderate to severe mental illness, compared to 22 percent in 2018.

Clearly, the epidemic is having a devastating impact on mental health.

However, some are suffering more than others.Young people between the ages of 18 and 44 – primarily iGen and millennials – have borne the brunt of the mental health impact. They experienced a 10-fold increase in serious mental distress compared to 2018. Meanwhile, adults aged 60 and over experienced the smallest increase in serious mental health problems.

Why is this happening? After all, viruses have a more serious impact on the health of older people.

This may be because older people are more likely to be protected from the financial disruptions of an epidemic. Young adults are more likely to lose their jobs due to restaurant and store closures and are more likely to be in a precarious financial situation to begin with. The youngest adults are also already struggling with mental health issues. From 2012 to 2017, there was a spike in depression among 18- to 25-year-olds, likely because young people are spending less time interacting with others than in the past, a situation that is only exacerbated by the epidemic.

Parents under pressure
Another group in distress came as no surprise to parents: those with children under the age of 18 at home. With schools and childcare centers closed during the epidemic, many parents are struggling to complete the nearly impossible task of working and supervising their children. Athletic events, scouts, music lessons, summer camps, and almost every other activity that parents rely on to keep their children busy were cancelled. Even parks have been closed for weeks.

This trend isn’t just happening because people with children at home are younger. Even among those between the ages of 18 and 44, those with children at home exhibit greater mental distress than those without children.

In 2018, parents were actually less likely to experience mental distress than those without children. But by the end of April 2020, parents were more likely to be in distress than their peers without children.

Where will we go from here?

The results of this study are preliminary.The 2020 and 2018 samples, while very similar in age, gender, ethnicity and region, came from different sources and so may differ in other ways.

However, there are other indications that mental health was affected during the pandemic. For example, the number of calls to mental health hotlines appears to have spiked.

This does not necessarily mean that we should open up the economy to mental health. The resulting spike in COVID-19 illnesses and deaths could have a more serious impact on mental health, and workers who are asked to return to work may have a legitimate fear of contracting the virus.

This does mean that policymakers need to prepare for the potentially unprecedented number of Americans who will need mental health services. Just as hospitals were at risk of running out of ventilators during the COVID-19 surge, the mental health care system may soon be overwhelmed.

This survey also shows just how widespread the epidemic’s impact is and how many people are suffering. If you’ve been grieving your loss – and stressing over the uncertainty of the future – you’re not alone.

“Collecting a saliva sample at home mitigates the risk of exposure that requires travel to a facility or driving to it, and is more invasive, comfortable and reliable than sticking a swab up your nose or throat,” said Andrew Brooks, RUCDR’s chief operating officer and director of technology development, in a statement.

The saliva-based test, which relies on samples collected from the nose and throat, produced fewer false-negative results in severely infected people than the swab test for coronavirus, meaning it was more reliable in confirming active infection, according to a report published April 29 in TIME. As previously reported by Live Science, the speed at which the COVID-19 swab test provides false-negative results has raised concerns among health care professionals; saliva-based tests can provide consistency where these other tests falter.

In the same comparison, the saliva test also did not yield false-positive results.

During the collection process, a person would spit into a container containing an embalming fluid developed by medical device manufacturer Spectrum Solutions, according to a statement from Rutgers University. The exact formula for the solution remains a secret, but the ingredients are readily available, according to the Times. However, like swab tests, saliva-based tests rely on PCR machines to handle the sampled genetic material; Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen told the Times that specific chemicals are needed to run the machines and can pose supply chain problems.

Nonetheless, home saliva testing could address “many of the critical issues associated with mass screening that are necessary to get people back to their normal daily lives,” Brooks said. Brooks told the Times that in April, the Rutgers lab processed nearly 90,000 tests at its in-person testing sites and plans to increase its testing capacity to 30,000 tests per day. At the time, test results could be sent back to patients within 72 hours, but with all the right infrastructure in place, the turnaround time could be reduced to just a few hours, according to the Times.