Should You Swab Your Throat When Taking a Rapid COVID Test?

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A small pre-print study found that Omicron variant COVID-19 infections may be better detected by saliva swabs, since the variant infects and replicates more efficiently in the bronchus. SARS-CoV-2 infects the upper respiratory tract, which includes the mouth, nose, and throat.

Scientists are still un-covering why some people may have more of the coronavirus in their nose than their mouth, and vice versa. SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) infects the upper respiratory system — the nose, mouth, and throat — which is why some people have tested positive for COVID-19 after swabbing their throat with an at-home rapid test.

Throat swabbing isn’t a new phenomenon — throat swabs are frequently used to diagnose other respira-tory infections caused by influenza, rhinovirus, and adenoviruses. Earlier in the pandemic, scientists discovered that people’s saliva can contain high levels of the coronavirusTrusted Source and that saliva testing can be just as reliable as deep nasal swabbing. More recent research suggests that saliva swabs may be more useful with Omicron, since the variant is thought to infect the upper respiratory system more efficiently.

Though most of the rapid tests available at your local pharmacy are currently only authorized for nasal swabs, some doctors say it might be worth swabbing your throat in addition to your nose, as doing so can increase the test’s ability to detect the coronavirus. Other doctors believe that until we have more data or guidance from the test manufacturers saying whether kits can be safely and effectively used on the throat, too, it’s best to use the tests as instructed. A small pre-print study found that Omicron variant COVID-19 infections may be better detected by saliva swabs, since the variant infects and replicates more efficiently in the bronchus.

Delta, on the other hand, better attacks the lungs and upper airways. “They found that the throat swab provided more of a sample, increasing sensitivity for picking up the signal for the coronavirus,” said Dr. Sri Banerjee, an epidemiologist and faculty member in Walden University’s PhD in Public Health program. Another report from South Africa similarly found that saliva swabs conducted via a PCR test were more accurate at detecting the Omicron variant than the nasal swabs. Where those nasal swabs caught all the Delta variant COVID infections, they missed 14 percent of the Omicron variant COVID infections but the saliva swabs caught 100 percent of the Omicron COVID infections.

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