COVID-19 tests: Should we be swabbing our throats as well as our noses?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Should we be swabbing our throats as well as our noses?

Because the omicron variant affects the upper respiratory system, some health experts say a throat swab could provide a better result than a nose swab for rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests.

“Some of the studies being done are showing you have really high viral particles in the throat and mouth,” Dr. Manoj Jain, who oversees the COVID task force in Shelby County, said.

“The test was designed for nasal swab, so generally, we’re recommending you do that for now. But we will wait, and maybe within the next week or so, we’ll get more information on an oral swab,” he went on to say.

If you test at home and get a negative result, Dr. Jain said you should take another one within 24 hours or follow up with a PCR test, which is more sensitive than a rapid test.

“If a rapid test is positive, that’s a really good indicator that you have COVID. If it’s negative, you’re not really sure,” he said.

Dr. Jain said rapid tests are accurate about 70 to 80 percent of the time.

If you test negative with a rapid test but have symptoms, there’s a good chance you have the virus.

Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said that while there is some evidence suggesting a throat swab may be better at detecting the variant, you should continue to use rapid tests how they were intended — with a nose swab.