Background: SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection with real time PCR is currently the central diagnostic tool to determine ongoing active infection. Nasopharyngeal and oral swabs are the main collection tool of biological material used as the source of viral RNA outside a hospital setting. However, limitation in swabs availability, trained health professional with proper PPE and potential risk of aerosols may hinder COVID diagnosis. Self-collection with swabs, saliva and throat wash to obtain oropharyngeal wash has been suggested as having comparable performance of regular swab. We performed throat wash (TW) based surveillance with laboratory heath workers and other employees (LHW) at a laboratory research institute. Methods: Consecutive volunteer testing of LWH and external household and close contacts were included. TW self-collection was performed in 5 mL of sterile saline that was returned to original vial after approximate 5 secs of gargle. RNA extraction and rtPCR were performed as part of routine COVID protocols using Allplex (Seegene, Korea). Results: Four hundred and twenty two volunteers, 387 (93%) LHW and 43 (7%) contacts participated in the survey. One or more positive COVID rtPCR was documented in 63 (14.9% CI95 12%-19%) individuals. No correlation was observed between with direct activities with COVID samples to positivity, with infection observed in comparable rates among different laboratory areas, administrative or supportive activities. Among 63 with detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA, 59 with clinical information, 58% reported symptoms at a median of 4 days prior to collection, most with mild disease. Over a third (38%) of asymptomatic cases developed symptoms 1-3 days after collection. Although overall CT values of TW were higher than that of contemporary swab tests from hospitalized cases, TW from symptomatic cases had comparable CTs. Conclusions: The study suggests that TW may be a valid alternative to the detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA. The proportion of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic cases is elevated and reinforces the need of universal precautions and frequent surveys to limit the spread of the disease.
medrxiv Subject Collection: Infectious Diseases