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Jan 19, 2018Print this page

How To Swab for the Flu: Flocked Swab Sample Collection


For 13 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has mapped outbreaks of the flu as they occurred in different states throughout the flu season. The 2018 flu season is packing a bigger, broader punch. For the first time, officials say, people in every pocket of the continental United States are experiencing flu symptoms at the same time. 

According to media reports, as of early January the number of child fatalities attributable to the flu this season has reached 20. And the season is expected to last into mid-April. 

So, it’s more important than ever for your staff to be prepared to collect and test influenza specimen samples. 

flu season 2018

Flu Swab Testing: Why Use Flocked Swabs?

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) recommends nasopharyngeal (NP) flocked swabs as the preferred specimen collection device for influenza testing. 

At the microscopic level, synthetic-tipped swabs are more abrasive than cotton. For this reason, flocked swabs exhibit a superior recovery and elution of specimens. Flocked swabs provide better sample collection due to their velvet-like brush tip, which releases higher numbers of target cells and retains more liquid sample than foam tipped swabs. 

Many physicians find using flocked swabs for nasal swab testing because they are easier to use and patients report less discomfort than they do with other swab types.   

Which Tests Will Benefit from Flocked Swabs?

Flocked swabs are ideal for traditional viral culture methods as well as enzyme immuno assays (EIA), direct fluorescent antibody assays (DFA), and molecular tests including real time PCR. Flocked swabs are offered with flexible plastic handles for ease of use and patient comfort. 

Nasal Swab for Flu: Which Test?

The two most common types of flu tests are the rapid influenza diagnostic test (RIDT) and the more traditional viral cell culture test. Both of these tests rely on NP swabs, throat swabs, NP or bronchial washes, nasal or endotracheal aspirate, or sputum testing. NP swabbing with flocked swabs is the preferred method. 

NP Swabbing for Influenza

As the name suggests, the nasopharynx is the part of the pharynx above the soft palate that is continuous with the nasal passages. 

*Please note: When collecting samples, it is recommended to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (gloves, surgical mask, eye protection). 

An NP swab collection for influenza is best performed by following these steps:   

  1. Choose a swab with a flexible plastic handle and flock tip, such as Puritan’s     25-3317-U.
  2. Insert swab into one nostril straight back (not upwards) and horizontally to the nasopharynx up to the measured distance on the swab handle.
  3. Rotate the swab up to 5 times and hold in place for 5-10 seconds to collect sample material.
  4. Remove swab and insert into a vial containing 1-3ml of viral transport media.
  5. Break the swab handle at scored breakpoint line.
  6. Label the vial with appropriate patient information. 

There are certainly exceptions to the types of swabs and procedures described above, but we hope you’ll reference this general overview whenever you need a refresher.    

Have more questions about swabbing for the flu, or about any of Puritan’s disposable medical products? Contact us to speak with one of our sales representatives. 




Topics: Flu, Flocked Swabs, Diagnostics, Specimen Collection Procedure


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