Beijing is using anal swabs to test its residents for coronavirus, a method that experts say is more accurate and raises the chances of detecting the virus.
To collect test samples, the swab needs to be inserted about two to three centimetres (0.8 to 1.2 inches) into the rectum and rotated several times.
After completing the motion twice, the swab is removed before being securely placed inside a sample container. The whole procedure is said to take about 10 seconds.
The Chinese capital began using the derriere detecting method more frequently during a mass testing drive after a nine-year-old boy tested positive for the virus last week.
Since January 17, more than three million residents in three Beijing districts have received coronavirus testing in a bid to stem the contagion, authorities said.
More than 1,000 staff and students at the infected young patient’s school also underwent a variety of nucleic acid tests including the anal swabs, reported state media.
Anal swabs have been used in China to test coronavirus since last year, but the method is mainly used in key groups at quarantine centres because of its inconvenience, according to a Chinese disease control expert.
Speaking to state broadcaster CCTV on Saturday, Li Tongzeng from Beijing You’an Hospital said that traces of the coronavirus linger longer in the anus or excrement than those samples taken from throat and nasal swabs.
‘We found that some asymptomatic patients tend to recover quickly. It’s possible that there will be no trace of the virus in their throat after three to five days,’ Li noted.
‘But the virus lasts longer from the samples taken from the patient’s digestive tract and excrement, compared to the ones taken from the respiratory tract.
‘If we conduct anal swabs for nucleic acid testing, it would increase the detection rates of patients and lower the chance of a missed diagnosis,’ the expert claimed.
Ms Gao, a resident who was under quarantine in Tangshan city near Beijing, told reporters about her experience receiving the anal swab at a centralised isolation centre.
A female health worker performed the procedure on her, the woman told The Beijing News. The whole test took about 10 seconds.
‘[She] inserted the cotton stick inside the rectum,’ Ms Gao said. ‘Rotated it a few times and took it out. She did it twice in total.’
As the testing method sparked a discussion online, a video widely circulated on Chinese social media shows a doctor holding a visual demonstration of the procedure.
According to various reports, the anal swab needs to be inserted about two to three centimetres (0.8 to 1.2 inches) into one’s rectum and rotated for several times.
After completing the motion twice, the swab is removed before being securely placed inside a sample container.
Users of China’s popular Twitter-like Weibo social media platform reacted to the method with a mix of mirth and horror.
‘So lucky I returned to China earlier,’ one user wrote.
‘Low harm, but extreme humiliation,’ another said, using a laughing emoticon.
Others who had undergone the procedure chimed in with dark humour.
‘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,’ one Weibo user joked.
But the accuracy and efficiency of anal swabs remain controversial among experts.
Yang Zhanqiu, a deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, told state media Global Times that the nasal and throat swabs remain the most efficient test as the virus is proven to be contracted via one’s upper respiratory tract rather than the digestive system.
‘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.
As cases rise around the world, China has imposed stricter requirements on international arrivals in an effort to keep domestic transmission close to zero.
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.
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.
As of Wednesday, China has reported a total of 89,272 confirmed infections. Its death toll rose by one to 4,636 following an additional fatality on Monday.