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Some COVID-19 tests may come with a smell, a UVA doctor explains why

COVID-19 test swab (file)
COVID-19 test swab (file)(Credit: Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune)
Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 4:08 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - While some COVID-19 tests may have a chemical smell, Doctor Amy Mathers from UVA Health says, “smelling like chemicals does not mean it’s toxic.”

Doctor Mathers is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Pathology says the swabs are often put in a fume chamber before packaging which can contribute to the smell.

“A lot of people use gas sterilization with ethylene oxide and there was a bit of chatter about ethylene oxide being toxic,” Dr. Mathers said.

Etheylene oxide is a poisonous chemical in high amounts, however Dr. Mathers says it’s dissipated to safe levels during packaging. She manufactured swabs during a portion of the pandemic, worked to clear them with the FDA, and learned about sterilization in the process.

“I know it seems like just a sponge on the end of the stick but you know, it needs to be sterile. So there are not microbes on it that you’re then putting into somebody’s nose or that are going to multiply in transit and mess up the accuracy of the test.”

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