McMaster University researchers designed and tested in Botswana a specially-designed “flocked swab” for collecting samples from children admitted to hospitals with severe diarrhoeal disease.
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Using an inexpensive innovation in specimen collection, the Canadian-led team diagnosed previously unrecognized pathogens that had caused the severe diarrhoea of over one-third of children in a group of African hospitals. This flocked swab eliminates the wait and biohazard involved in obtaining and transporting a feces sample from an infant or child. This efficiency enabled implementation of a randomized clinical trial evaluating same-day diagnosis and treatment for a broad number of pathogens.
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Resembling an oversized Q-tip® but with a furry 3.2-cm (1.25-inch) tip of nylon fibers attached perpendicularly to the end of a plastic stem, the flocked swab began with a proof-of-concept grant in 2011 from Grand Challenges Canada. Unlike cottom swabs common in many homes, the flocked swab is like a soft brush with no absorbent core so the entire biological sample stays close to the surface, facilitating diagnostic tests. Produced at scale, a swab costs as little as 25 cents.
The device will be used in Canada for the first time in the Gastroenteritis Surveillance Project in Nunavut, where acute gastrointestinal infections are at least two to four times higher than in other Canadian regions.