Things That Matter

China Is Using Anal Swabs To Test For COVID-19 – Could This Be The Future Of Testing?

Although the Coronavirus pandemic originated in the Chinese province of Wuhan at the end of 2019 – and the country was hit hard by the outbreak – China seemed to successfully get a handle on the health crisis quicker than most countries. However, that tide seems to be shifting as the country struggles with one of its largest COVID-19 outbreaks yet.

It could be argued that Chinese citizens also endured some of the most draconian measures meant to curb the virus’ spread: entire cities were placed under strict lockdowns, drones were used to enforce curfews, entire communities were forced into testing centers.

But now they face a new indignity: the addition of anal swabs.

China rolls out rectal testing to help stop a spike in new infections.

Chinese officials have introduced the new protocol and it’s been met with widespread discussion and some outrage. Some Chinese doctors say the science is there. Recovering patients, they say, have continued to test positive through samples from the lower digestive tract days after nasal and throat swabs came back negative.

An anal swab test means inserting a cotton-tipped swab about 3-5cm (1-2 inches) into the rectum, which is then sent to a lab to be tested for the virus. They are analyzed in the same way as the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) coronavirus tests taken from the nose or throat.

“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 broadcaster China Central Television Sunday. 

Yet for many, the anal tests seems to be a step too far.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, China has been willing to take draconian measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, even at enormous inconvenience to its population. In the early days of lockdowns, health officials sometimes sealed apartment buildings to keep people from leaving. Millions were rounded up for overnight flash-testing drives, with people forming lines in the streets in darkness.

Even Chinese doctors who support the new tests said the method’s inconvenience meant it made sense for use only in select groups, such as at quarantine centers.

“Everyone involved will be so embarrassed,” one user in Guang­dong province said Wednesday on ­Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. In a Weibo poll, 80 percent of respondents said they “could not accept” the invasive method.

Thanks to this dummy, you can get a look for yourself.

The healthcare worker dips the swab in a saline solution – standard practice for this methodology – and then inserts the cotton-end into the rectum. The swab is inserted an inch or so to get the best results, and then gives it a nice little twist for good measure before pulling out and putting it in a plastic sample tube.

The new testing guideline comes just over a year after the virus began spreading rapidly in the country.

It’s been more than a year since the virus started circulating widely in China. The country has seen ups and downs in its battle against the pandemic with the situation right now being among the worst.

However, officials are further worried about the upcoming Lunar New Year, often called the world’s largest annual migration. Some 3 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.

For its part, China is hoping to vaccinate 50 million people before the holiday period begins, but that’s only 4% of the population, far too low a rate to prevent mass transmission.

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