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Coronavirus: Alberta returns to ‘gold standard’ nasal pharyngeal swabs as global supply rebounds

A nurse prepares a testing swab at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson.
A nurse prepares a testing swab at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson. Canadian Press file

Alberta is switching back to nasal pharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing now that the global supply has been restored.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Services calls the slightly uncomfortable, deep-up-the-nose method “the gold standard for testing for respiratory… [illnesses] like COVID-19.”

Read more: Coronavirus: How rapid testing kits could lead to more targeted screenings

During the height of the pandemic, there was a global shortage of the nasal pharyngeal swabs, Kerry Williamson explained.

So Alberta Precision Laboratories sourced throat swabs to make sure the province could keep up with the demand for testing.

Read more: Alberta expands testing to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms

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“Early on in the pandemic, Alberta Precision Laboratories validated and confirmed that a throat sample collected on the appropriate swabs is effective at detecting the virus,” Williamson explained.

The nasal pharyngeal swabs, which collect a sample deeper than a traditional nasal swab, continued to be used in Alberta throughout the pandemic in certain clinical settings, such as transplant, oncology and critical care units.

Read more: Edmontonians flock to drop-in COVID-19 testing centre

But now that the global supply is stabilizing, Williamson said the lab is returning to nasal pharyngeal swabs, “the gold standard for patient collection and testing of respiratory viruses.”

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Alberta labs will use different types of swabs as required, he added, to make sure inventory remains stable.

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