Thursday 22 Oct 2020

The Covid swab test may be uncomfortable, but no you cannot pierce your brain with a swab test

‘Woman's nose starts leaking brain and spinal fluid after she took a Covid swab test’, ‘Coronavirus swab test went so far up a woman’s nose it caused her brain to leak’– Recent lurid headlines will not put people at ease. But is this cause for alarm? No, say doctors. Because while the swab test may be uncomfortable, it is perfectly safe and a vital public health tool to help us bring the pandemic under control

Carl Philpott, University of East Anglia | OCTOBER 17, 2020, 12:52 AM IST
The Covid swab test may be uncomfortable, but no you cannot pierce your brain with a swab test

People who have had the Covid swab test say that it feelslike their brain is being pierced by an oversized cotton bud.

Recent lurid headlines will not put people at ease.“Woman’s nose ‘starts leaking brain and spinal fluid’ after she took a Covidswab test”, said theDaily Star. “Coronavirus swab test went so far up a woman’s nose it causedher brain to leak”, was the Mirror’sheadline.

But where did this story come from – and should we giveit any credence?

The newspaper reports are based on a casestudy published in a respected medical journal, JAMA Otolaryngol Head andNeck Surgery. It tells of a woman in Iowa, USA, who was asked to self-swab forCovid before undergoing a hernia operation.

Shortly after swabbing, fluid began leaking from hernose. She also developed a headache and started vomiting.

The doctors at the University of Iowa hospital, where shewas treated, identified the fluid as cerebrospinal fluid – a fluid that isfound in the protective lining around the brain and spine.

So is this cause for alarm?

Not really.

The 40-year-old woman had a pre-existing defect in thebase of her skull (the bone at the top of the nose) and a sac of brain tissuehad protruded out into the nasal cavity. This is a rare condition that we seein neurosurgery and in ear, nose and throat clinics.

About one in 10,000 babies are born with a defect likethis, but the rate at which it occurs in adults is unknown. In this lady’s caseit was probably because the pressure inside her skull around the brain washigher than normal, creating a weak spot.

It is extremely unlikely for any person who doesn’t havethis pre-existing weakness in the nose to cause any damage with a swab.

However, a good tip when swabbing the nose is to rememberthat the inside of the nose travels back, towards the back of the head, and notup. So any swabbing of the nose should involve pointing the swab towards theback of the head in the same direction as you would point the swab towards yourtonsil when you swab your mouth – which is part of the same test.

Please do not be afraid of having your nose swabbed. Itmay be uncomfortable, but you cannot accidentally jab your brain.

The swab test is our only way of telling who has and whohasn’t got Covid. It’s a vital public health tool to help us bring thispandemic under control.

 

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