Coronavirus Nasal

Nasal Swab

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What is a nasal swab? A nasal swab, also called a nasopharyngeal culture, is a test that checks for viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory infections. The test is done by taking a sample of cells from the uppermost part of your nose and throat. This area is known as the nasopharynx. There are many…

What is a nasal swab?

A nasal swab, also called a nasopharyngeal culture, is a test that checks for viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory infections. The test is done by taking a sample of cells from the uppermost part of your nose and throat. This area is known as the nasopharynx.

There are many types of respiratory infections. The test can help your provider diagnose the type of infection you have and which treatment would be best for you.

Other names: nasopharyngeal culture, nasopharyngeal swab

What is it used for?

A nasal swab is used to diagnose certain infections of the respiratory system. These include:

  • The flu
  • COVID-19 infections
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This is a common and usually mild respiratory infection. But it can be dangerous to young babies and older adults.
  • Whooping cough, a bacterial infection that causes severe fits of coughing and trouble breathing
  • Meningitis, a disease caused by inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a serious type of bacterial infection that can be very difficult to treat

Why do I need a nasal swab?

You may need this test if you have symptoms of a respiratory infection. These include:

What happens during a nasal swab?

During the test:

  • You will tip your head back.
  • Your health care provider will insert a swab into your nostril until it reaches your nasopharynx (the upper part of your throat).
  • Your provider will rotate the swab to collect the sample
  • Your provider will remove the swab.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for a nasal swab.

Are there any risks to the test?

The test may tickle your throat or cause you to cough. These effects are temporary.

What do the results mean?

Depending on your symptoms, you may have been tested for one or more types of infections.

A negative result means no harmful viruses or bacteria were found in your sample.

A positive result means a specific type of harmful virus or bacteria was found in your sample. It indicates you have a specific type of infection. If you are diagnosed with an infection, be sure to follow your provider’s recommendations for treating your illness. This may include medicines and steps to prevent spreading the infection to others.

Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.

References

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.