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#SwabYourThroat? FDA, Norfolk doctor say don't use at-home COVID-19 tests as throat swabs

The hashtag #SwabYourThroat gained traction on Twitter, but doctors warn that is a bad idea for a number of reasons and you should stick to swabbing your nose.

NORFOLK, Va. — Some people on social media are using at-home COVID-19 rapid tests, in a different way. They’re swabbing their throats instead of their nose.

However, local doctors and the FDA say that’s a bad idea.

Almost two years into the pandemic, PCR and antigen rapid COVID-19 tests have become the norm.

Now, as President Joe Biden’s administration plans to send out one billion at-home rapid tests, some are wondering how well they can detect the Omicron variant.

"Unfortunately, the sensitivity of those are lower meaning that if I am asymptomatic, but I’ve been exposed and I test myself with one of these kits, that if it’s negative, that doesn’t mean it’s negative," said Dr. Jordan Asher, Executive Vice President and Chief Physician Executive with Sentara Healthcare.

They work best if you have symptoms. Because of that, along with early studies suggesting saliva may be a better way to detect the Omicron variant, the hashtag #SwabYourThroat gained traction on social media.

"There’s been a lot of conversation on all types of sites that say, well maybe if we swab your throat, then we’ll get more virus and the test will do better," he says.

So, some people began to swab their throats instead of their noses with the at-home rapid test kits

Asher says that’s a bad idea for a number of reasons.

"There’s different issues in the back of your throat that you don’t want to poke... be poking something hard in."

He said not only is it not safe, but it’s also extremely difficult to do it accurately on yourself.

"It’s hard enough swabbing your nose. The idea of swabbing your own throat will not occur. You’ll get the back of your tongue, because of the gag reflex, you’ll choke," says Asher.

The FDA also said on Twitter they do not have any data yet suggesting throat swabs are an accurate method for at-home tests. They've put out a warning to follow the instructions with your at-home rapid test and only swab your nose.

Asher said it’s not out of the question that health professionals may start performing throat swabs, but for now, use the tests how they were designed to be used.

"If you go to your doctor or another testing site with people who do testing, this is how we test for strep throat. So, we might get to the point of doing some throat swabs, but definitely not for the home kits."