Covid in UAE: Saliva PCR test vs nasal swab; who is eligible?

Test is used only on children below 17 years old and may not be acceptable for travel


By SM Ayaz Zakir

Published: Tue 11 Jan 2022, 3:56 PM

Last updated: Wed 12 Jan 2022, 12:51 PM

Doctors in the UAE said that the saliva-based Covid-19 test has proven accurate and is conducted at various institutions, including the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

"The validity of the saliva-based test has been proved accurate based on evidence and research," said Dr Antony Thomas, pathologist and director, Prime Diagnostic Services.

Doctors say that many studies have documented that saliva test is an acceptable alternative to a nasopharyngeal swab.

According to health practitioners, the saliva-based testing is offered only in a few clinics approved by DHA.

Dr Thomas said that as of now, saliva-based tests are approved for screening in asymptomatic children.

"Such testing is useful for school entry and also travel purposes. For those with clinical symptoms, the nasal swab is still the choice as virus load is higher in respiratory mucosa, especially in the initial stages,"

Parents want the most comfortable procedure for the children when asymptomatic, said Dr Thomas.

"Nasopharyngeal swabs can be an unsettling procedure for young children. Saliva testing is approved for school children by the authorities to encourage regular screening," said Dr Oomen.

Various studies across the world have factored in these challenges, and saliva testing has been found to be a good option.

"The results showed 87.7% sensitivity and 98.5% specificity with a positive and negative predictive value at 92.2% and 97.6% respectively, thus showing that saliva can be an acceptable alternative," added Dr Oomen.

Based on effectiveness, doctors pointed out that the saliva-based test is used only in children up to 17-years of age and may not be acceptable for travel.


"One of the major airline groups in the UAE confirmed that nasopharyngeal swab specimen is required, and some rejections have been reported for the saliva-based test. It may change in future."

Dr Oomen added that samples of saliva collected at home is not acceptable for travel. "This could vary from country to country and depends on the regulatory authorities."

Doctors highlighted that saliva samples might be affected if there has been food or beverage intake just before collection.

"This leads to an invalid result. Candidates must rinse their mouths adequately before collection. Other challenges are diluting viral load," Dr Oomen said.

Healthcare professionals advise labs to use kits that support saliva testing.

"These testing kits and collection kits should also be validated in-house in each laboratory with an adequate sample size against the saliva collection kits."

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