China has begun using anal swabs to test those it considers at high risk of contracting COVID-19, state TV reported, with social media users and travellers squirming over the invasive procedure which doctors say can be more effective in detecting the virus.
Small, localised outbreaks in recent weeks have seen multiple cities in northern China sealed off from the rest of the country and prompted mass testing campaigns — which up until now have mostly been conducted using throat and nose swabs.
Officials took anal swabs from residents of neighbourhoods with confirmed Covid-19 cases in Beijing last week, broadcaster CCTV said, while those in designated quarantine facilities have also undergone the test.
Anal swab tests could be more accurate than the nose or throat tests, said Li Tongzeng, deputy director of the respiratory and infectious diseases department at Beijing You An Hospital, in an interview with state media.
China has been willing to take extreme measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 in its borders, locking down entire cities or even provinces to contain outbreaks, quarantining new arrivals for lengthy periods of time and there are reports of forced testing.
The anal swabs method “can increase the detection rate of infected people” as traces of the virus linger longer in the anus than in the respiratory tract, Li Tongzeng, a senior doctor from Beijing’s You’re Hospital, told CCTV.
Weibo (Twitter-like social media platform used in China) users have reacted to the tests with a mix of horror and mirth.
Reactions posted by the Weibo users on Anal Swabs Test
One user wrote- “So lucky I returned to China earlier.”
“Low harm, but extreme humiliation,” another said, using a laughing emoticon.
Others who had undergone the procedure chimed in with dark humour.
One user even cracked a joke. He said “I’ve done two anal swabs, every time I did one, I had to do a throat swab afterwards—I was so scared the nurse would forget to use a new swab.
As cases rise around the world, China has imposed stricter requirements on international arrivals in an effort to keep domestic transmission close to zero.
Not all experts agree with the use of anal swabs to test for a respiratory illness. Yang Zhanqiu, a pathology expert at Wuhan University, told China’s Global Times that nose and throat swabs are the most efficient tests for Covid-19.
“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,” Yang said.
The country has also tightened restrictions domestically, with Beijing announcing that people from medium- or high-risk areas will be barred from the city from Thursday to reduce the risk of virus transmission over the Lunar New Year period.
CCTV said on Sunday anal swabs would not be used as widely as other methods, as the technique was “not convenient.”
Meanwhile, arrivals into the country must have multiple negative test results and quarantine for at least 14 days in a designated hotel on arrival, with many cities and regions imposing additional home observation requirements.