Why are Anal Swab COVID-19 Tests a Thing in China?

By Barnaby Lofton, January 28, 2021

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With regional outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in the lead up to Spring Festival, China health authorities are taking new prevention measures to make sure no potential carriers are missed. 

On Wednesday, a Weinan city official in Shaanxi province said a 52-year-old man, who originally showed a negative result after a throat swab, ended up testing positive using nose and anal swabs. The man showed symptoms such as coughing and appetite loss.

Anal swabs appear to be a last resort for health officials to rule out coronavirus carriers. The process involves inserting a cotton swab 3 to 5 centimeters into the anus and gently rotating it, Reuters reports.

According to Li Tongzeng, a deputy director in charge of infectious disease at Beijing You’an Hospital, studies revealed that COVID-19 survives longer in the anus or feces compared to the upper body tracts, Global Times reports. Li acknowledged that this method of testing is inconvenient (and possibly uncomfortable, we might add) compared to throat swabs, and will only be used for key groups undergoing quarantine.

The study, published by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), noted the stool tests may be more effective than respiratory tests in identifying COVID-19 infections in children due to a higher viral load in their stool than adults. 

Earlier this month, a nine-year-old primary school student tested positive for COVID-19 in Beijing. The school conducted a variety of tests, including serum antibody tests, nasal, throat and anal swabs for all staff and students.

[Cover image via NIAID-RML]

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