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Parents on a par with nurses when collecting nose swab samples from their children

Nose swab news story

Published: 10 November 2021

A qualitative study of children’s nasal swabs has shown that samples collected by parents are as good at detecting respiratory illnesses as those taken by nurses.

The research, which has been published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum and conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, compared the quality and performance of parent-collected nose and saliva swab samples, such as PCR tests, with nurse-collected samples. 

Respiratory tract infections in children, such as coughs, colds and flu, and more recently, COVID-19, are some of the most common illnesses treated in primary care. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in nose swab samples collected at home. These are more convenient than having swabs collected by nurses and cut costs, as well as lowering the infection risk to healthcare workers. 

More than 300 parents and 485 children aged around five took part in the Bristol-based study, funded by the Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation. The parent-collected and nurse-collected samples were sent to a clinical testing laboratory for the detection of more than 40 common respiratory pathogens.

Parent-collected nose swabs performed well compared with those collected by nurses, with an accuracy of 91.6% in picking up viral infections and 91.4% for bacterial infections. When it came to collections using saliva swabs, parents fared less well, with the accuracy dropping to 69% for viruses and 78.1% for bacterial infections.

Lead author of the study, Dr Claire Woodall, Research Associate in Primary Care Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, and Elizabeth Blackwell Institute/Daphne Jackson Fellow, said: “Parents should have the confidence to collect a nose swab from their child. Our study showed that parents collected a higher number of human cells on the nose swabs compared to nurses, which suggests that children are more tolerant of a parent performing the swabbing technique.” 

Alastair Hay, a GP and Professor of Primary Care Research at the Centre for Academic Primary Care,  University of Bristol, who supervised the study, said: “Given the widespread use of nasal swabbing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, this study has highlighted the suitability, benefits and convenience of parent-collected swabs for subsequent identification of respiratory microbes.”

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