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Screening for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR: Saliva or nasopharyngeal swab? Rapid review and meta-analysis

Abstract : Background: Diagnosis of COVID-19 in symptomatic patients and screening of populations for SARS-CoV-2 infection require access to straightforward, low-cost and high-throughput testing. The recommended nasopharyngeal swab tests are limited by the need of trained professionals and specific consumables and this procedure is poorly accepted as a screening method In contrast, saliva sampling can be self-administered. Methods: In order to compare saliva and nasopharyngeal/oropharyngeal samples for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, we designed a meta-analysis searching in PubMed up to December 29th, 2020 with the key words “(SARS-CoV-2 OR COVID-19 OR COVID19) AND (salivary OR saliva OR oral fluid)) NOT (review[Publication Type]) NOT (PrePrint[Publication Type])” applying the following criteria: records published in peer reviewed scientific journals, in English, with at least 15 nasopharyngeal/orapharyngeal swabs and saliva paired samples tested by RT-PCR, studies with available raw data including numbers of positive and negative tests with the two sampling methods. For all studies, concordance and sensitivity were calculated and then pooled in a random-effects model. Findings: A total of 377 studies were retrieved, of which 50 were eligible, reporting on 16,473 pairs of nasopharyngeal/oropharyngeal and saliva samples. Meta-analysis showed high concordance, 92.5% (95%CI: 89.5–94.7), across studies and pooled sensitivities of 86.5% (95%CI: 83.4–89.1) and 92.0% (95%CI: 89.1–94.2) from saliva and nasopharyngeal/oropharyngeal swabs respectively. Heterogeneity across studies was 72.0% for saliva and 85.0% for nasopharyngeal/oropharyngeal swabs. Interpretation: Our meta-analysis strongly suggests that saliva could be used for frequent testing of COVID-19 patients and “en masse” screening of populations.
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Submitted on : Friday, June 11, 2021 - 5:06:37 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, July 13, 2021 - 3:28:14 AM


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Nusaïbah Ibrahimi, Agnès Delaunay-Moisan, Catherine Hill, Gwénaël Le Teuff, Jean-François Rupprecht, et al.. Screening for SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR: Saliva or nasopharyngeal swab? Rapid review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2021, 16 (6), pp.e0253007. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0253007⟩. ⟨hal-03258703⟩



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