Non-invasive skin swab could quickly detect COVID-19

RODNAE Productions/Pexels

Non-invasive skin swab samples may be enough to detect the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a new study by researchers from the University of Surrey published in The Lancet journal EClinicalMedicine.

The most widely used approach to testing for COVID-19 requires a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which involves taking a swab of the back of the throat and far inside the nose. For the study, researchers collected sebum samples from 67 hospitalised patients, 30 who had tested positive for COVID-19 and 37 who had tested negative. The samples were collected by gently swabbing a skin area rich in sebum, an oily, waxy substance produced by the body's sebaceous glands, such as the face, neck, or back.

The researchers analyzed the samples by using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry and a statistical modelling technique called Partial Least Squares Discriminant Analysis to differentiate between the COVID-19 positive and negative samples.

The study also found that patients with a positive COVID-19 test had lower lipid levels, or dyslipidemia, than their counterparts with a negative test. The accuracy of the study's results increased further when medication and additional health conditions were controlled, the researchers said.

"Unfortunately, the specter of future pandemics is firmly on the top of the agenda for the scientific community,” said Melanie Bailey, PhD, co-author of the study from the University of Surrey, in a statement. “Our study suggests that we may be able to use non-invasive means to test for diseases such as COVID-19 in the future, a development which I am sure will be welcomed by all.”

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.