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China using anal swab COVID tests, calls it more accurate than throat test

U.S. Army Pfc. Joshua Jenkins conducts a COVID-19 swab test. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kleynia R. McKnight)
January 27, 2021

China is testing patients for coronavirus using anal swabs, a method Chinese state-run media asserted last week could be more accurate than the more common throat test.

According to China’s Global Times, recovering patients have tested positive through lower digestive tract samples when nasal and throat swabs returned negative results, prompting a growing use of anal swabs to diagnose the virus.

The Chinese government approved expanding anal swab testing as part of the larger effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, after a group of Chinese researchers found anal swabs to be the “optimal” method for discharging hospitalized patients.

“Intriguingly, SARS-CoV-2 detection was positive in the anal swab of two patients and negative in throat swab and sputum samples,” they wrote. “We propose anal swabs as the potentially optimal specimen for SARS-CoV-2 detection for evaluation of hospital discharge of covid-19 patients.”

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention published instructions on how to conduct the test: if a stool sample cannot be provided, a cotton-tipped stick should be inserted one to two inches into the rectum.

The Washington Post reported that the intrusive test has prompted backlash on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Users have expressed their disbelief and embarrassment about the testing method.

A Weibo poll found 80 percent of participants said they “could not accept” the new test method.

Some Chinese doctors said the anal swabs were inconvenient, adding that it only made sense to use them under specific circumstances, like quarantine centers.

“If we add anal swab testing, it can raise our rate of identifying infected patients,” Li Tongzeng, an infectious-disease specialist at Beijing You’an Hospital, said on state-run network Sunday. “But of course considering that collecting anal swabs is not as convenient as throat swabs, at the moment only key groups such as those in quarantine receive both.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, China has taken drastic measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, even if it severely disrupted Chinese citizens’ lives.

Early on in the lockdowns, health officials would sometimes seal apartment buildings to stop individuals from leaving and also rounded up millions of citizens for testing drives in the middle of the night.

Following an outbreak at Shanghai’s international airport last year, thousands of employees were locked inside by Chinese officials for testing purposes.