RIYADH: While different diagnostic tests can be used to identify the coronavirus, health authorities have been taking nasopharyngeal swabs of suspected sufferers to detect early cases — but many fear the pain and discomfort of the process.
Coronavirus testing could be the key to returning to life as usual. A number of videos are circulating on social media showing how the nasal swab procedure is done but many are put off by patient responses.
The test, a nasopharyngeal swab or culture, is a common procedure to diagnose upper respiratory tract infections.
A health care worker gently inserts what looks like a long Q-tip into a person’s nose, twirls the swab to get a sample and places it in a vial. The sample is then sent to a lab for analysis.
According to a spokesman from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a person undergoing a swab test will feel discomfort and will have the urge to sneeze or cough. That sensation disappears immediately after the completion of the process and the person can resume his life normally without feeling any pain.
Dr. Fadwa Al-Ofi, an infectious diseases consultant, told Arab News about her experience while taking nasal swab tests from patients, explaining that it only took a few seconds.
“The nasal swab is a wooden or plastic stick that is inserted into the patient’s nose to reach the nasopharynx area. I didn’t try it myself, but according to the patients’ description, there is a slight pain or a feeling that you’re about to sneeze,” she said.
She said that the pain threshold differs from one person to the next but the procedure only takes a few seconds.
Dr. Afrah Al-Somali, who works at the King Abdulla Medical Complex in Jeddah, said that the Ministry of Health provides doctors with nasal swabs daily. On a normal day, one doctor takes between 20 to 30 swabs.
She said that patients had been helpful and understood the importance of the test even though it could cause irritation. She said that patients were not intimidated or nervous as doctors wore face shields to protect themselves while taking the swab test in case someone sneezed or coughed.
Khuloud Mullah, director of the diplomatic list at the Department of Diplomatic Affairs, who tested positive for COVID-19 and is now recovering, told Arab News that the nasal swab was very irritating: “I have taken eight nasal swabs so far since the diagnosis.”
“It depends on the skill of the doctor,” Mullah said. “In many cases the pain is tolerable or mild, and in others the lack of experience may cause pain. I only felt pain once and it lasted for 15 minutes. I guess it was because the nurse was in a hurry when she took the swab,” Mullah said.
Mullah said that it did not matter if the swab was inserted gently or slowly or quickly; it was an important process with temporary discomfort.