Covid-19

Forum: Many fears about swab testing are unfounded

A swabber from the Health Promotion Board with a swab sample at a screening centre in Sembawang on Oct 8, 2020.
A swabber from the Health Promotion Board with a swab sample at a screening centre in Sembawang on Oct 8, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

It really is a sign of the times when people do not want to see a doctor for fear of being given mandatory five days of medical leave (People may need to be persuaded to see doctor when unwell, Jan 21).

The fear is unfounded, for even though medical leave is compulsory after a viral swab test is done, the efficiency of the system lets test results be made known normally within 36 hours, and even 24 hours for urgent cases.

Home stay is no more compelled once negative results are announced, although preventive measures like masking and social distancing must of course continue.

Of the hundreds of swab tests conducted in my clinic, as with most others, the incidence of a positive result is extremely low, as reflective of the situation in our community.

A strong reason why Singaporeans under-report illness is the fear of swabs.

Some have been told that the test involves vigorous probing and scraping of the inside of the nose with a long stick as thick as a pencil, and many have been terrified by exaggerated tales of bleeding after the swab.

And then there are those who simply fear stepping into a medical environment presumed to be toxic with infectious patients gathering for tests. This, in spite of ample education from various government ministries debunking these and other urban horror stories.

In truth, Covid-19 swab tests are easily done within a minute with no pain. Whole cities cannot be swabbed otherwise within a week or two without a major incident.

There may be a little discomfort and some minor irritation of the nasal passages, which, at most, may trigger a sneeze or cough.

Finally, some patients may baulk at the issue of cost, not knowing that for all cases that qualify for a swab, the cost is almost fully subsidised with a co-payment of only $5 to $10.

While government agencies must now work, in the midst of all the misinformation perpetuated on the Internet, towards herd immunity by encouraging more Singaporeans to be vaccinated against Covid-19, they must also continually assuage public fear of swab testing through mass education and campaigns.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Many fears about swab testing are unfounded'. Subscribe