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Non-Invasive Saliva Test Measures Tetanus Immunity in Children within 15 Minutes

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 10 Jul 2024
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Image: The new test may identify children missing immunity to tetanus and other essential vaccines (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: The new test may identify children missing immunity to tetanus and other essential vaccines (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can be deadly but is preventable through vaccination. Yet, over 20 million children globally do not receive essential childhood vaccinations, and the COVID-19 pandemic caused the coverage of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine to drop to its lowest in 15 years, placing more individuals at risk of severe illnesses. While there has been a general decline in tetanus worldwide, the disease still results in avoidable deaths in several low-middle-income countries (LMICs). In response, experts are now developing a non-invasive saliva test that - within 15 minutes - could identify children in the Global South who lack immunity to tetanus and may have missed crucial vaccinations.

Researchers at University of Birmingham (Birmingham, UK;) are working on a low-cost lateral flow test that allows for easy, quick immunity testing without the need for blood draws, which is the current standard. After initial laboratory tests, this new method will be put to the test in Rwanda. There, researchers will evaluate its effectiveness in real-world conditions and gauge its acceptance within the local community. The test is designed for use in various settings, from outreach programs and community gatherings to clinics and hospitals, and could significantly enhance access to immunity testing in areas where it's challenging to assess protective status and gather sero-epidemiological data. Being non-invasive and saliva-based, it eliminates the complications and costs associated with blood sampling, which is particularly beneficial for children. The researchers plan to extend trials of this test to other LMICs to measure immunity levels across different populations and support vaccination monitoring and strategy development.

“Our test shows if a person has protection against tetanus within 15 minutes. It can help identify individuals who are not protected and need vaccination,” said Dr. Jennifer Heaney, Research Fellow, University of Birmingham. “As tetanus vaccination features in all combined immunizations alongside other serious diseases, if an individual is unprotected against tetanus, they are also likely to be missing protection against other serious vaccine-preventable diseases. The test therefore can measure tetanus immunity but could also help identify broader gaps in vaccine provision.”

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