UW Medicine says nasal swabs it bought from China are OK despite contamination to other parts of coronavirus testing kits

Tribune Content Agency

SEATTLE — Scientists at UW Medicine have determined that tens of thousands of nasal swabs the health system imported from China were not affected by contamination discovered in other parts of its testing kits.

UW Medicine took extraordinary measures in early April to airlift some 80,000 kits for statewide use during a national shortage of testing swabs and the specimen-preserving liquid needed for diagnostic testing.

The health care system imported the testing kits after making a connection through a Seattle businesswoman’s relationship with a Chinese sales contact, who had a loose connection to a doctor in the country’s Hubei province who helped secure the supplies. An Amazon-chartered jet flew some $125,000 worth of testing kits from Shanghai to the U.S.

The story of the testing kits, which The Seattle Times detailed this month, illustrated the need for testing materials and the lengths and financial risks officials were willing to go to get more kits.

After tens of thousands of the kits were distributed to partners including the Washington State Department of Health and Public Health – Seattle & King County, UW Medicine determined a small percentage of vials contained specimen-preserving liquid contaminated with a common bacterium. Some of the liquid had begun to change from hot pink to orange in color, a sign that its chemistry had altered.

UW Medicine recalled the testing kits after discovering the problem and last week began to test the nasal swabs included separately from the vials to ensure they were safe for use.

The nasal swabs were not affected by the contamination, spokeswoman Susan Gregg said in an email.

“We have tested samples of the swabs and have not found any contamination that would preclude their use,” Gregg said. “We plan to use the swabs at UW Medicine with tubes of sterile saline for transport.”

UW Medicine recommended that local and state agencies in receipt of the testing kits discard the vials of preserving liquid, but that it was “up to their discretion to use the nasal swabs,” Gregg said.


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