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JERUSALEM, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Israel’s Health Ministry on Monday asked people who test themselves for COVID-19 to swab their throats as well as their noses when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant.
The recommendation goes against advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said manufacturers’ instructions should always be followed and that improper use of throat swabs could present a security risk.
On Israel’s Army Radio, Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s public health chief, said antigen – or lateral flow – tests, widely used in the country, are less sensitive than PCR tests for detect disease.
“In order to increase their sensitivity, we will now recommend scrubbing the throat and nose. This is not what the manufacturer requires, but we do,” she said.
The ministry later issued guidelines that a swab should be taken from the throat and then from a nostril.
“It has the potential to improve the reliability of the test,” Israel’s pandemic response coordinator Salman Zarka told a news conference, adding that the ministry would release a video showing how to use the new method.
Zarka said the ministry spoke with the companies providing the test kits before issuing the new recommendation.
Rhenium, one of Israel’s importers of antigen kits, said earlier that the Health Ministry did not consult it before issuing the new guidelines and that the tests, not verified by the company for swabs of throat, were intended for nasal swabs.
MORE THAN ONE TEST
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Alroy-Preis said when exposed to a carrier, people must take more than one test or wait three days after exposure before testing with rapid kits.
The quarantine period for those who test positive is expected to be shortened from 10 to seven days, although a final decision has not been made, the director general of the health ministry said.
Some infectious disease experts have advocated a throat swab with antigen testing because people can pass Omicron to others when the virus has infected their throat and saliva but has not yet reached their nose.
A study published Wednesday by the online archive medRxiv ahead of peer review examined 29 Omicron-infected workers in high-risk occupations who underwent PCR and antigen testing simultaneously over several days. Saliva PCR tests detected the virus an average of three days before rapid nasal swabs turned positive.
However, the US FDA tweeted on Friday, “As far as rapid home COVID-19 antigen tests are concerned, these swabs are for your nose, not your throat.” Throat swabs, he says, “if used incorrectly can harm the patient.”
Israel has confirmed around 1.5 million infections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and more than 8,000 deaths, and says around 60% of its 9.4 million people are now fully vaccinated.
Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jo Mason, Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrich
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