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Anal swabs are now being used for coronavirus testing. China says they’re more accurate

anal swabs covid 19 tests china
Photo via tiziana di sora/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The good news for Chinese citizens concerned about COVID-19 is there’s a testing method being rolled out thought to be more accurate than throat swabs. The bad news is that it’s anal swabs. 

According to Newsweek, more than 1 million Beijing residents who underwent coronavirus testing during a recent outbreak have been administered anal swabs. Those are considered more accurate and more likely to detect COVID-19, according to a Chinese disease specialist who endorsed the practice. 

“Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve tested for the virus using mainly throat swabs. Its characteristics are convenience and speed, so it’s suitable for large-scale testing,” said Beijing You’an Hospital’s Li Tongzeng, who went on to say nasal swabs can be more accurate than throat swabs but more uncomfortable. 

“In some asymptomatic cases or in individuals with mild symptoms, they tend to recover from the illness very quickly,” he noted. “It’s possible that there will be no trace of the virus in their throat after three to five days. What we’ve found is that in some infected patients, the coronavirus survives for a longer period of time in their digestive tract or excrement than in their respiratory tract.”

Hence, the logic for anal swabs being employed to more effectively detect COVID-19, though as Li understated, “Anal swabs aren’t as convenient as throat swabs, so they’re only being used on individuals in key quarantine areas.” 

China’s National Health Commission notes that the anal swabs are to be administered 3-5 centimeters (1.2-2 inches) inside the rectum. The swab is rotated then removed before being securely placed inside a sample container. According to someone speaking to Newsweek who experienced the procedure, it takes less than 10 seconds. 

However, as the Washington Post noted in its story on the testing method, some see it as “a step too far in government intrusions after a year and counting of a dignity-eroding pandemic.” 

“Everyone involved will be so embarrassed,” said one person on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, according to the Post. In a Weibo poll, 80% of respondents said they “could not accept” the invasive method.

The need to detect new cases, early in the pandemic’s second year, is fueled in part by Chinese officials’ concern about the Lunar New Year holiday in February. The Washington Post article noted that it is “often called the world’s largest annual migration,” adding that “some three billion trips are made over the holiday during a non-pandemic year, which means even a single silent coronavirus case could rapidly leapfrog across the nation.”

The latest testing came after what Newsweek characterized as a “cluster of locally transmitted cases in mid-December.” Health officials, determined to have all of Beijing’s 21.5 million residents tested, are reportedly 80% of the way there. 

Read more on coronavirus testing:

Sources: Newsweek, Washington Post


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