Now most school-aged children who get a COVID-19 test can simply swish, gargle and spit some sterile salt water or saline solution into a tube instead of getting a swab of the nose.
The roll out of the new sample collection, available at collection centres, is a first in Canada. It was developed by lab and medical staff with the Provincial Lab Medicine Services, the Public Health Lab and BC Children's Hospital and will make getting a COVID-19 test easier for children and their parents and caregivers.
"Students are back in class and with respiratory season around the corner, we expect more children will be going for tests in the coming months," said Dr. David Goldfarb with BC Children's Hospital who led the work to develop the mouth rinse gargle option for COVID-19. "We wanted to find a solution to make sample collection quick and simple so parents and students would feel comfortable coming for a COVID-19 test."
Mouth rinse and gargle sample collection doesn't require a health care professional to collect a sample - most children can do it themselves or with some help from their parent or caregiver. To help children prepare, a new video was created that provides instructions. Younger children should practice the technique at home with water before going for a test.
Parents and families can also take a look at the new testing information for children and youth on the BCCDC website to learn more about the process, how to prepare, and get test results.
The new program is an important development for B.C.'s back-to-school plan. This year, families and students are asked to do daily health checks and to stay home from school if they have key symptoms of illness. While COVID-19 rarely makes children very sick, the symptoms are similar to other common childhood illnesses like colds or bacterial infections. When a test is required, this new way to collect a sample will make it easier for children and youth.
Mouth rinse and gargle is now available throughout the province at all collection centres.
It was developed by the BCCDC Public Health Laboratory and BC Children's Hospital pathology team based on work done elsewhere to evaluate this method for other respiratory infections.
"We initially looked at this as an option to help ease the pressure on our supply chain to find a steady supply of swab for nasopharyngeal sample collection," said Dr. Linda Hoang with the BCCDC Public Health Lab and one of the medical leads for this initiative. "Mouth rinse and gargle sample collection will be a huge relief for the supply chain."
The team carried out a clinical evaluation at BC Children's Hospital to ensure performance and user acceptability.
"In piloting the program, lab and medical staff heard loud and clear that people preferred this method and children found it fun," said Dr. Goldfarb.
"Once the new system was proven to work, a team came together to scale up the program for collection centres province-wide in just a couple of weeks. They sourced and distributed supplies, developed instructions and materials for the collection centres and families, and worked with health authorities and public health to coordinate the launch. They are also working with a local company to design and supply the special collection tube/funnel that children can use
Once again, I am blown away by the dedication and ability of my colleagues to coordinate a province-wide roll out of such a unique program," said Dr. Blake Gilks, chief lab medical officer for the COVID-19 lab response. "Testing is a key to detecting cases quickly and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and in our communities."
For students who can't follow the instructions or for children who are too young, they can still get a nasopharyngeal swab. Either test will accurately detect COVID-19. While many adults may prefer the mouth rinse and gargle option too, for now it is only available to school-aged children but the province will examine expanding the program in the future.