It’s All about the Swabs: Specialized Wuhan Virus Testing Swabs Run Out, Constricting Test Supplies


The two top makers of the highly specialized swabs used to test patients for the novel coronavirus are straining to keep up with the demand, even as both the Italian and U.S. governments are working with them to increase production, including at a key manufacturing site in the midst of Italy’s outbreak.

The nasopharyngeal swabs required for the coronavirus tests are quite different from your standard Q-tips — and the exploding need for them has created a bottleneck in the soaring demand for diagnoses.

The swabs have to be long and skinny enough to get to the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat, behind the nose. They must be made of synthetic fiber and cannot have a wooden shaft. Nor can they contain calcium alginate, a substance typically used for swab tips in wound care, as that can kill the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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