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How Should You Swab for a COVID19 Test?

The appropriate procedure to swab for COVID-19 testing depends on the type of sample being collected. There are two main types of COVID-19 test swabs, soft polyester, and nylon micro brushes. Both may be used for all types of Covid tests using samples from either the mouth or nose. Though the procedures for collecting these samples share a lot in common, there are also major differences, especially in the experience of the patient. Let’s explore what is the difference between the types of tests available for COVID19 based on the types of swabs, as well as which swab tests for COVID-19 are reliably accurate at detecting current infection.

Basic Covid19 Test Procedure

The basic COVID-19 test procedure includes several steps:

1.       Find a Testing Site: First, you must find a site near you to perform the test. This could be a public entity like your local Department of Health, or a private facility like a BioCollections lab. You may have to schedule the test a day or more in advance depending on the rate of infections in your area and other variables, whereas other labs like BioCollections may offer walk-in or drive-through testing without an appointment. It is also worth a call to the location to find out in advance if their COVID-19 tests are free or not. The US Department of Health and Human Services has created a directory for free and low-cost COVID-19 tests across the United States.

2.       Review Information with Medical Professionals: Any facility that performs COVID-19 testing must be Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certified by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). This certification means the facility and its staff meet applicable regulatory requirements that may vary by state. Wherever you choose for your COVID-19 test, you should expect to answer a few basic questions about your current wellness. You should also have an opportunity to ask questions of a trained professional about the test and general COVID-19 protocols, including whether you should quarantine following the COVID-19 test.

3.       Sample Collection: Sample collection will be performed with a swab or through saliva in a cup. We’ll get more specific about swab samples in the next sections.

4.       Wait for COVID-19 Test Results: Results of a COVID-19 rapid test will be available in as little as 15 minutes, while PCR test results will take longer. Some labs can process these tests in 24 hours or less, while others will take longer.

COVID Nasal Swab Collection Procedure

Not all COVID-19 nasal swab collection procedures are the same. Your experience of the test depends on whether you are getting a deep nasal swab vs nasopharyngeal swab.

  • Nasal swabs have ends made of soft polyester and look like a Q-tip. To collect the sample, the swab is inserted into both nostrils to a depth of one inch or less. Rotating the swab ensures a full sample is collected.
  • Nasopharyngeal swabs have ends made of sterile nylon fashioned into small brushes. These swabs must be inserted parallel to the roof of the mouth until resistance is encountered or the swab reaches a depth equivalent to that from the ear to the nostril of the patient. The sample is collected from just one nostril, unless there is a deviated septum or other blockage preventing a full sample.

How far does the rapid Covid test go up your nose? Ultimately, it depends on which type of swab is used to collect the sample.

Between these two tests, the nasal swab is certainly more comfortable than the nasopharyngeal. However, nasopharyngeal tests seem to be more accurate. Study findings have indicated that nasal swabs are 82-88% accurate, while nasopharyngeal swabs are 98% accurate.

Though nasal swab Covid test accuracy may not be as high, the test is easier to conduct. Individuals are even able to self-collect nasal swab samples for COVID-19 and get results from the privacy of their home. 

On the other hand, whether you choose only a nasopharyngeal swab rapid test or follow it up with a nasopharyngeal swab PCR test using the same sample, a professional will need to collect the sample to ensure the nylon brush swab does not cause injury.

Mouth Swab COVID Test Collection Procedure

Saliva samples from inside the mouth can also be collected using either type of swab, soft polyester or nylon brush. The soft polyester swab is used to collect samples from inside the mouth, while the polyester brush will be used to swab the back of the throat. During both types of COVID mouth swabs, it’s important to avoid the teeth, tongue, and gums, to ensure the only substance on the swab is saliva. Plaque, other bacteria, and food could corrupt the sample. This is why it’s generally recommended not to smoke, eat, or drink anything (including water) within the hour prior to the test.

Initially, mouth swab Covid test accuracy was regarded with some scrutiny, but clinicians now understand these tests to be equally as accurate as nasal swabs. However, they are not as widely available as nasal swab tests, simply because fewer laboratories possess the technology to analyze the saliva samples. In some areas, mouth swab COVID-19 tests may only be available to those without symptoms and who have not had a known exposure to the virus, because the sample processing time is longer and those with concerns of infection need results sooner.

Trust BioCollections for Combined COVID-19 and Flu Testing

For more than two decades, BioCollections Worldwide has been at the forefront of providing customer-focused, best-in-class testing, and our efforts against COVID-19 have been no different. Our COVID-19 tests were among the first to receive emergency use approval in 2020 and are some of the only options available where a COVID-19 test and flu test are performed on the same sample. This is just one of the innovations we have achieved to deliver reliable, accurate, and useful PCR test results to our customers within 12-24 hours. Contact BioCollections today to schedule a test at a lab near you, or discuss setting up on-site group testing. 

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