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The invasive testing method reportedly involves a saline-soaked cotton swab that is inserted about 3 to 5 centimeters into the anus

By Eric Todisco
January 27, 2021 02:00 PM
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China has introduced a new mothod to test its citizens for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

According to Bloomberg and the Washington Post, who cited local outlets, China is using anal swabs as a means of COVID-19 testing for patients considered to be high-risk. The country is also continuing to use throat and nose swabs.

The anal swab method reportedly involves the insertion of a saline-soaked cotton swab about  3 to 5 centimeters (about 1 to 2 inches) into the anus, with the sample then tested for active traces of the virus.

Li Tongzeng, deputy director of the respiratory and infectious disease department of Beijing You An Hospital, said in a recent interview with state television that the testing method was introduced after research showed that traces of COVID-19 can be found longer in the anus than in the respiratory tract.

"If we add anal swab testing, it can raise our rate of identifying infected patients," Tongzeng said, per the Washington Post. "But of course considering that collecting anal swabs is not as convenient as throat swabs, at the moment only key groups such as those in quarantine receive both."

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Some Chinese citizens have already experienced the new method of detection. Last week, over 1,000 schoolchildren and teachers in Beijing were given anal, throat and nose swabs after one asymptomatic virus case was detected on campus, local officials said.

According to Bloomberg, passengers on a flight from Changchu to Beijing were tested for COVID-19 via nose and anal swabs on Monday after officials learned that someone on-board the flight was from a high-risk area.

Alex Wang, 21, told VICE World News that he underwent two anal swabs back in September at a quarantine hotel after returning from Australia to his hometown Weihai, located in the eastern province of Shandong. 

"At first I was shy," Wang said of the process, which he said involved two nurses and lasted a few seconds. "But I understood the country was under pressure to prevent outbreaks."

However, many Chinese citizens are vehemently against the invasive new method.

Weibo, Chinese social media platform, recently conducted a poll about the use of anal swabs, and 80 percent of respondents said they "could not accept" the technique, the Washington Post reported.

Yang Zhanqiu, a pathology expert at Wuhan University, told China's Global Times that nose and throat swabs are more effective at detecting COVID-19 than anal swabs. "There have been cases concerning the coronavirus testing positive in a patient's excrement, but no evidence has suggested it had been transmitted through one's digestive system," Zhanqiu said.

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Wuhan, the largest city in Hubei and the most populous city in Central China, is the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus and a major transportation hub that allowed for the virus to spread easily to other countries.

According to a New York Times tracker, there are more than 100,227 reported cases of COVID-19 in Mainland China, while at least 4,635 people have died from the virus.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.