Effectively analyzing a material begins with using the right tools to collect a sample, whether it’s from the body to aid in medical diagnosis, from the environment to identify potentially harmful pathogens, or from a crime scene to aid in an investigation. However, it’s also critical to ensure that contaminants don’t reach the specimen on its journey to the lab. Given the numerous options available for each of these tasks, selecting the right collection and transport tools can be overwhelming. This is where a specimen collection kit can prove invaluable.
What is a specimen collection kit?
A specimen collection kit provides all of the components necessary to secure a sample and send it to a laboratory for diagnostics, environmental sampling and research purposes. Working with a kit eliminates confusion around which swab should be paired with which transport media to ensure viability of the sample during transport. Timely specimen collection and handling is critical in ensuring accurate results and preventing analysis errors.
What are the elements of a specimen collection kit?
In general, there are several consistent components of a specimen collection kit:
- A sterile pouch that contains a swab applicator for specimen collection. Swab type may vary depending upon the application. However, in all instances, it is critical that swabs not be used if the sterile peel pouch has been damaged in any way.
- A vial containing a transport or other medium. Transport medium is a formulation that preserves a specimen and minimizes bacterial growth during the time required to transport the sample to the laboratory. In some types of specimen collection, it may be more suitable to use an enrichment media that supports the growth of specific microorganisms, or a molecular preservative that reliably preserves DNA and RNA. In all cases, the vial should contain a secure lid, typically a screw-cap.
- Directions for use. Careful handling prevents changes in the microbiological conditions of the sample, so it is important to review directions for the proper collection and handling of samples.
What are specimen collection kits used for?
As noted above, specimen collection kits have proved invaluable in securing samples for analysis across a wide range of clinical, environmental, and research applications. A few of the types of specimens that may be gathered with a specimen collection kit includes:
- Nasopharyngeal samples, collected by swabbing the upper part of the pharynx behind the nose, can provide diagnostic confirmation of a range of viral and bacterial infections, including influenza, COVID-19, enterovirus D68, and other respiratory illnesses.
- Fecal samples, which can be collected either through a rectal swab or a stool swab, can help clinicians in the diagnosis of a range of gastrointestinal bacterial infections.
- Vaginal swab samples can assist in identifying the presence of Group B strep, or Streptococcus agalactiae, a bacteria found in the digestive tract and birth canal of one in four pregnant women, among other ailments.
- Food sampling is not only critical in identifying the potential presence of food-borne pathogens but is a required step in remaining compliant with FDA food safety requirements.
What to look for in a specimen collection kit
While specimen collection kits are designed for ease of use and accurate diagnostics, not all specimen collection kits will offer all the same benefits. It is important to look for a specimen collection kit that is designed with your specific end-use in mind. That includes using the most appropriate swab for your specimen collection needs. For example, foam swabs might provide the elution properties most appropriate for environmental and food sampling, while a polyester or flocked swab might provide the combination of collection properties and patient comfort more appropriate for clinical use.
Still, it is not always necessary to use a specimen collection kit designed for use with the specimen processor’s own brand of liquid transport system. Validation testing can help clinicians, food processors, and other samplers, as well as laboratories, identify sample collection kits that are both accurate and cost-effective. Validating multiple suppliers’ transport systems is becoming common practice for labs around the world, not only to guarantee sustainable supply but also for product quality and cost comparison.
An overview of specimen collection kits
As noted above, specimen collection kits will vary in the types of swabs they pair with specific media to ensure viability of the specimen as it is transported for analysis. A few of these options include:
- Specimen collection kits designed for the transport of viruses or Chlamydia, Mycoplasma, or Ureaplasma bacteria specimens might contain antimicrobial agents and incorporate glass beads that support efficient vortexing.
- Specimen collection kits with Liquid Amies medium in combination with flocked swabs provide an ideal environment for ensuring the viability of aerobic, anaerobic, and fastidious bacteria during transport to the lab.
- Some specimen collection kits might incorporate a media designed to support the growth of a selected microorganism while inhibiting the growth of others. For example, a MRSA liquid is used to transport antimicrobial-resistant organisms, such as Staphylococcus aureus.
- Maintenance media in combination with flocked swabs may be most suitable for collection, transport, and preservation of fecal and rectal samples containing enteric pathogenic bacteria that lead to foodborne illnesses.
The sheer number of options available can seem overwhelming, but Puritan Medical Products is committed to helping simplify this process by targeting swabs and specimen collection kits for effective use across a range of applications.
If you still have questions, please reach out. Contact us with questions and we can guide you to the right solution for your specimen collection needs.