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Skin Swab Samples Quickly Detect COVID-19

Approaches that measure the indirect effect of the virus on the host may offer complementary solutions in clinical or mass testing.

A recent study published in the journal Lancet E Clinical Medicine has found that non-invasive skin swab samples may be enough to quickly detect COVID-19 in comparison to the typically used PCR testing. The study was conducted by investigators from the Universities of Manchester and Leicester, in collaboration with the Frimley NHS Trust.

"Investigating new methods of diagnosis and surveillance in a new disease such as COVID-19 that has had such a devastating effect on the world is vital,” George Evetts, a Consultant in Anesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine at Frimley Park Hospital said. “Sebum sampling is a simple, non-invasive method that shows promise for both diagnostics and monitoring of the disease in both a healthcare and a non-healthcare setting."

Investigators behind the study collected and analyzed samples of sebum, an oily, waxy substance produced by the body's sebaceous glands, from 67 hospitalized patients. Of those 67, 30 had tested positive for COVID-19 and 37 had tested negative.

Using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, in conjunction with a statistical modelling technique called Partial Least Squares - Discriminant Analysis, the investigators differentiated the samples between the positive and negative ones.

Finds from the study showed that the positive COVID-19 tests had lower levels of lipids when compared to the negative tests. Additionally, the accuracy of the tests increased even more when they controlled for medication and any additional health conditions.

"Unfortunately, the specter of future pandemics is firmly on the top of the agenda for the scientific community,” Melanie Bailey, a co-author of the study from the University of Surrey said. “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."