Study: Polyester Swabs, Saline Transportation Effective for COVID-19 Testing


A new study found that alternative swab materials and commonly available saline are effective for COVID-19 testing, allowing patients to self-administer tests.

A new study by UnitedHealth Group found that alternative swab materials and commonly available saline are effective for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) testing. These results allow for greater flexibility in the obtainment of samples, as patients will be able to self-administer COVID-19 tests, according to the study. This will, in turn, reduce the risk of infection to clinicians and reduce the need for clinicians to tap into the already short supply of available personal protective equipment (PPE).1

The FDA has updated its guidance to reflect this new research, as this information allows patients nationwide to use polyester swabs instead of foam swabs and store tested swab samples in saline rather than specialized viral transport media. Considering the difficulties that obtaining test supplies pose around the world, knowledge of the efficacy of alternative materials provides flexibility and an increased capacity for further COVID-19 testing.1

“While foam nasal swabs can be used effectively, they are not as readily available as polyester swabs. Additionally, the supply of traditional viral transport media is limited,” said study lead Yuan-Po Tu, MD, an infectious disease expert at The Everett Clinic, in a press release.1

In the traditional test regimen, a trained health care worker collected samples from a patient’s nasal cavity using a nasopharyngeal swab. The process required the worker to use PPE, was uncomfortable for the patient, and placed a strain on the availability of specialized testing materials.1

With the ability to create a patient-administered test, patients can swab the front part of their own nostril and mid-nose, which eliminates the prior strain on the health care supply chain caused by the need to produce more specialized testing materials.1

Dan Wattendorf, director of Innovative Technology Solutions, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a partner in the study, said in a press release that because polyester swaps can be readily manufactured and scaled, the United States can overcome current testing shortages due to the results of this new study. Wattendorf explained further that, “The ultimate goal is to ensure that testing swabs will be readily available for self-administered sample collection at health care facilities, in workplaces and at home.”1


  • New Study Shows Effectiveness of Polyester Swabs and Saline Transportation for COVID-19 Testing, Improving Testing Efficiency and Flexibility, and Protecting Health Care Workers [news release]. Minnetonka, MN: UnitedHealth Group; April 16, 2020. Accessed April 17, 2020.

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