Conserve swabs for urgent tests, pathologists warn

Tuesday, 24 Mar 2020


Due to national shortages of test reagent, clinicians are being urged by pathologists to conserve the utilisation of all swabs by limiting any unnecessary or non-urgent testing, such as for chronic leg ulcers.

“It is essential that the use of all swabs is conserved to critical testing only,” says Dr Michael Dray, President of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA).

“Currently, swabs should only be utilised for the testing of COVID-19 where they meet testing criteria, and for other urgent conditions.”

Dr Dray said it was important to acknowledge that laboratories were working at high capacity during this period of increased demand, “therefore, we seek the assistance of our healthcare colleagues to ensure that all tests are prioritised as much as possible.”

On March 17  the Chief Medical Officer of Victoria said the supplies RNA extraction reagent supplies were unobtainable due to a global shortage and therefore clinicians should limit testing to patients who meet the suspected COVID19 case definition and use one swab only.

“There is a significant shortage of swabs and reagent kits for COVID-19 testing. It is critical that clinicians limit testing to patients who meet suspected case definition and use only one swab when testing.”

An AMA spokesman told the Guardian that supplies of the swab RNA extraction reagent differed between states and territories due to stockpiling policies.

 “There’s probably two issues at the moment. Firstly, there has been very variable stocking by the state pathology services of this,” said Dr Chris Moy.

“The other reason why there is a bit of a burn-through … there is still a proportion of the ‘worried well’ getting tested. The problem with that is the criteria for testing keeps changing,” he said.

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