In this fact-check, we explore a rather…interesting COVID-19 claim that recently went viral on Facebook.
The author poses two questions in his post:
- Why can’t COVID-19 testing be done using a saliva sample taken from the “highly contagious mouth”
- Whether there is something actually being implanted inside individuals during the rather invasive test
He reasoned that because “modern science” can do “complete DNA mapping” by swabbing for a saliva sample from inside one’s cheek, it doesn’t “sound logical” that testing for COVID-19 can’t be done the same way.
While seemingly unrelated, the author also brought up how individuals have been told to wear masks to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps this is simply to reiterate his assumption that an individual’s saliva from the “highly contagious mouth” will contain the virus.
The post has been shared close to 320,000 times.
Yet another viral claim about the virus
Let’s first look into the question on whether or not the virus can be tested using a saliva sample.
In an article on The Straits Times, we read that the use of saliva to test for COVID-19 is actually being considered by health authorities in Singapore. The Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed that it will “continue to review global and local clinical research and evidence on the feasibility of incorporating saliva testing into (its) testing regime”.
However, there is also debate on how reliable saliva testing is in detecting the virus.
According to Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, programme leader of infectious diseases and co-director of global health at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, the viral load in “pure saliva” is relatively low, whereas “secretions from the back of the throat, which includes the oropharynx and nasopharynx, generally have a higher viral load”.
He added that if done unsupervised, “the saliva collection may be done poorly or improperly, be it deliberately or inadvertently”, and this could defeat the purpose of testing in the first place.
In a fact-check by PoliticFact on the viral (pun intended) Facebook post, we see them quoting Dr. Micah Bhatti, an infectious-diseases professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who mentioned that while “tests can be performed on other specimen types that are less invasive, such as a throat swab […] they are less sensitive than the COVID-19 nasal swab test”.
He added: “Saliva is another specimen type that is being explored, but the jury is still out on that one.”
Therefore, we can conclude that while health experts aren’t completely ruling out the possibility of saliva testing, it still has yet to be unanimously established as a reliable form of testing for COVID-19.
As for the claim that nasal swabbing could be a means to implant something inside individuals, it is amusing to note that a similar allegation had been made earlier in May:
This is what Bill Gates and George Soros want to do… Secretly stick you with a chip while testing you for the corona…
The claim was debunked by PolitiFact due to the lack of evidence.
Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious disease scientist at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health had also told PoltiFact previously (in yet another fact-check which debunks the claim that the US government was going to develop an ‘antivirus’ that involves inserting a chip to track movements) that even the smallest microchips “are rather large”. Said Dr. Chen: “The RFID chips that are routinely used for the tracking of pets are as small as a grain of rice … or in other words, they are as large as a grain of rice, and no vaccine needles in use are that large in diameter.”
Thus, to date, there is no evidence that implantation of any kind is happening during swabbing. Therefore, we rate the claim as unproven.