Thursday, April 30, 2020


Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Swabs, pieces of cotton on a thin stick, are one of the surprising barriers in testing for COVID-19. There aren't enough of them. Additionally, standard swabs affect test outcomes. Cotton is organic and contains its own DNA.

In an article by Matthew Herper for STAT, some better swabs are described. These don't affect outcomes the way in which their counterparts, cotton swabs, may.

Herper notes that "On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would allow a broader range of swabs to be used in tests, including some made of  polyester then cotton that should be easier to manufacture.

"Experts hope the moves will make the swabs “so cheap and accessible that we can make them available to anybody as soon as they have a cold-like illness,” said Dan Wattendorf, a physician who directs innovative technology solutions at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave technical advice on the studies that led to the decision.

"The FDA on Thursday took other steps that could help speed up diagnostic testing. It now says that a sample can be collected simply by circling the swab in the nose, instead of sticking a longer swab much deeper into the throat through a nostril. That process is deeply uncomfortable and causes patients to sneeze, meaning that health care providers need to be wearing full protective gear."

Further testing remains, e.g.., can they be mailed without affecting outcomes--temperature extremes. 

Give Herper's article a read and be grateful for researchers who pursue these kinds of seemingly mundane problems.

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