Discover SPARK

SPARK and COVID-19: Participant Q&A

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Date Revised: December 2, 2020

Saliva Kits & Saliva Collection

Are there saliva kits available?

Yes, there are kits available. If you have a kit at home, you can still collect saliva and send it back to the lab. Please double-check the expiration date on the tubes before spitting. If you find that your saliva tube is expired, please reach out to us by emailing to request a new kit.

I just received my kit or have one at home. Should I wait to give my saliva sample or is it okay to do it now?

You can still provide saliva samples during this time. Our lab will be operating under normal business hours. In order to keep saliva samples properly contained, please make sure the tubes are securely sealed in the plastic bag provided with your kits.

If I am unable to go to the post office during this time, how can I return my kit?

You can use the prepaid return label affixed to the back of the box when returning. If you are able, you can place the box in your mailbox and raise the flag to let your postal worker know that you have outgoing mail. For others, if you have access to a car, you can use any outside US Postal Service drop-box that will fit the box. Please check the USPS website for any policy updates during this time.

If I am temporarily unable to mail out my spit kit, how long can the kits last after they’ve been filled with saliva?

Once the tubes have been filled with saliva, the lid has been closed, and the preserving liquid has been released, the kits will last for up to 12 months. Please keep them at room temperature in the meantime.

Safety Information & Precautionary Measures

How are kits handled before they arrive at my home?

SPARK central and our external vendors, including our kit supplier, are taking the following steps to ensure the safety of their employees and our participants:

  • All non-essential staff are now working remotely to limit traffic into the building where saliva kits are being prepared
  • Temperature screening of staff has been implemented at all entry points for the staff that remains onsite
  • All non-critical travel has been eliminated as well as visitors to the facility, and strict quarantine rules are being followed in alignment with the most up-to-date CDC guidance
  • Sanitation stations have been set up throughout the building, including at all entry points
  • An extensive cleaning program has been set up for sanitation throughout the day and employees are wearing gloves when handling the internal contents of the saliva kit boxes
  • According to the World Health Organization, it is safe to receive packages from any area where COVID-19 is reported. Their website indicates: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”

Should I take any precautions with the materials when they get to my home to make sure they are clean?

As previously mentioned, our saliva kit supplier is taking great care to ensure the safety of the SPARK saliva kit packages. If you would like to further disinfect the package and the enclosed materials, please do so.

At the Lab

Should we be concerned about COVID-19 and returning our samples? Is the saliva a biohazard?

Labs across the country are continuing with their standard universal precautions, which are no different now than at other times. There are always viruses that are present in bodily fluids. The solution in the tubes inactivates some viruses. To prevent leakage, samples should be packaged in the sealable plastic bag provided in the saliva kits. The receiving lab heats the samples to kill any remaining viruses.

Is the lab still processing samples during this time? Will it take longer to get the results?

Yes, the lab is still processing samples. However, it is possible samples will take longer to process. If a genetic change related to you/your child’s autism is found, we will return that result to you in the typical time period.

Do I need to contact you if I find out I have COVID-19 after I’ve sent in the kit? Would the diagnosis affect whether or not my sample will be sequenced?

There is no need to reach out to SPARK. There are common viruses in bodily fluid. This does not affect your sample nor the lab’s ability to process it.

If they find COVID-19 in the spit, will we be told?

No. We do not test for COVID-19 or any other viruses.

Getting Support & Resources

Can I still get help from my clinical site?

All of our clinical site staff are now working remotely and have paused all in-person collection until further notice. In the meantime, our coordinators can assist you by phone and email. Please find their contact information here.

We will post updates on this page periodically, so please check back in the coming days and weeks.

Are there other ways to stay involved in SPARK?

Yes! SPARK has several different surveys you can access and complete on your dashboard. You can log in to your dashboard.. You may also be invited to take part in other autism research studies through our research match program. Keep an eye out for invitations via email!

Do you have any suggested resources for the ASD community surrounding COVID-19?

Yes. Visit our list of suggested resources from our clinical site partners and from other local and national organizations.


Emergency Information

For Mental Health Emergencies

If you have concerns that someone at home is depressed or thinking about hurting themselves, help them call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or use the Lifeline Chat.

If you have concerns that someone is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room.

For Medical Emergencies

If you are experiencing a COVID-19 or other medical emergency, visit the CDC’s What to Do if You are Sick guidelines.