Anal swabs for COVID-19 startle netizens. Awkward? Yes but more accurate, say experts
Published: Jan 28, 2021 04:06 PM

Photo: Li Hao/GT

Amid the looming shadow of COVID-19 flare-ups across the country, Chinese people have recently learned about another "awkward" side-effect brought by the epidemic - anal swabs for coronavirus testing. 

"You take off your pants, lie on the bed, and then you feel the cotton swabs inserted into your anus twice and turned a few times, which takes about 10 seconds each time," was how one person who took the test described the "awkward" experience to Beijing News. 

Beijing has rolled out anal swab testing for key groups, mainly those returning from abroad and living in high-risk areas for contracting the virus. According to health experts, taking an anal swab can increase the accuracy in detecting the virus, as it is believed to survive longer in the anus or excrement than in samples taken from upper body tracts, studies have shown. 

An internet user on Xiaohongshu, a social media platform, said that she had a "mental meltdown" when she was informed she had to take anal swabs along with other methods including nasal swabs, throat swabs, blood draws, and saliva tests, after she returned from overseas and was quarantined for 28 days. 

Another said, "When you bend over with your pants off, and medical staff poke your anus repeatedly, all you can feel is a sense of shame, but other than that, it was not that uncomfortable." 

Given the unpleasant experience when taking such tests, some netizens have asked whether it is necessary to adopt the method on top of the current ones, which have proved effective. 

Addressing such concerns, Cao Wei, deputy director of the infectious department at Peking Union Medical College Hospital, explained that they have found, both from follow-up data of people infected with COVID-19 and from SARS in 2003, that the human body's detoxification through defecation is a phenomenon that occurs during infection, The Paper reported.

Furthermore, studies have shown the coronavirus lives longer in the anus or excrement than in upper body tracts, and for some silent carriers, the virus may be present in their throats for only three to five days, resulting in some tests providing false negative results, said Li Tongzeng, a deputy director in charge of infectious diseases at Beijing You'an Hospital. 

As for the controversy over the method, Cao noted that people are still developing their understanding of the virus. "It's unsure whether the defecated virus is still infectious."

Global Times