Yale School of Public Health dean on-board with throat swab for at-home COVID tests, others disagree

Coronavirus

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — If you are one of thousands of people across Connecticut who got a hold of a free at-home rapid COVID test from the state, you might be wondering how to do it properly.

Talk is increasing on social media amongst the public and some medical professionals about the possibility of not just swabbing your nose but also your throat. Right now, taking a sample from your throat is not recommended by the FDA.

When deciding to take a rapid test, Dr. Sheldon Campbell, a professor of laboratory medicine at Yale, said the most important thing to do is read the instructions and follow them. He said not to hold back on putting the swab in your nose.

“Don’t just pass it at the end of your nose for half a second and say that’s good enough,” Campbell said. “Get it right up there and get a nice gushy, icky sample.”

Campbell said these tests are especially good at detecting whether someone has a lot of the virus and is therefore really infectious. They can also detect omicron but their effectiveness at detecting the variant is still being studied and just as our technology fails, a rapid test’s findings can be inaccurate.

This is why there is talk on social media about also swabbing your throat. It is currently recommended by the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the CDC here in the U.S. You take a sample from your throat and then your nose in the same test.

Campbell does not want to recommend this method along with some other medical professionals but the Dean of the Yale School of Public Health, Dr. Sten Vermund, feels differently based on omicron’s unknowns and common symptom of a sore throat.

“At this point, we’re flying a little bit blindly and if one wanted to maximize the likelihood of positivity, there would be little harm in sampling the nose and also sampling saliva,” Vermund said.

When Vermund says saliva, he is not referring to spit. He is talking about swabbing it from the throat.

“Just go back so that you have a little bit of gagging and that’s good enough,” Vermund said.

While it is unclear if you could get a better result, he does not think there is any harm in trying and thinks it could have benefits.

“If one took the swab, sampled the throat and then took the same swab and sampled the nose you would have a double sampling strategy with both saliva and with nasal passage mucus,” Vermund said, “and that might maximize the chance of finding a positive.”

He says if you do swab your throat, do not eat or drink 15-30 minutes beforehand.

Research is still ongoing. The FDA released the following statement:

“The FDA advises that COVID-19 tests should be used as authorized, including following their instructions for use regarding obtaining the sample for testing. The FDA has noted safety concerns regarding self-collection of throat swabs, as they are more complicated than nasal swabs – and if used incorrectly, can cause harm to the patient. The CDC recommends that throat swabs be collected by a trained healthcare provider.”

No matter how you do the test, make sure you check your results on time. If you get a negative test but are symptomatic, still isolate and get a PCR test.

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