What Is a Rectal Swab?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
Bacterial infections which cause fever may require use of a rectal swab test.
Bacterial infections which cause fever may require use of a rectal swab test.

A rectal swab is a procedure in which a small cotton swab is inserted into the rectum for the purpose of collection a samples to be tested for certain diseases and infections. Fecal matter as well as tissue and sometimes mucus may be collected and sent for testing. Various types of viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections may be detected via rectal swab. Additional tests may also be performed.

A rectal swab invovles the insertion of a cotton swab into the rectum.
A rectal swab invovles the insertion of a cotton swab into the rectum.

Patients may receive a rectal swab for any number of reasons, but it is usually performed to check for various types of infection. Pregnant women may receive this test when being checked for strep B bacteria, although this is most commonly done later in pregnancy using a vaginal swab test instead. If strep B is present in the rectum, however, it could be a good indication that it may wind up the birth canal as well so treatment may be begun.

Pregnant women may receive a rectal swab when being checked for strep B bacteria.
Pregnant women may receive a rectal swab when being checked for strep B bacteria.

Parasitic infections may also be tested for using a rectal swab. Parasites include organisms like pinworms which may infect the digestive tract if foods containing their larvae are ingested. Many times the worms will be present when the swab is taken. Medication can be given to kill the parasites in most cases.

Bacterial infections which cause fever and other symptoms may also require the use of a swab test. This is done to check for certain bacteria in the digestive tract which may lead to stomach upset. This may be done in combination with additional tests for a more accurate diagnosis.

A rectal swab may be used to test for parasitic infections.
A rectal swab may be used to test for parasitic infections.

During the swabbing process patients may feel slight discomfort. The swab is generally inserted a few inches into the rectum and then removed. Most patients are done within a few short minutes. Patients may be asked to refrain from washing the rectal area for several hours before the test is performed. Personal lubricants, fragrances, and other substances which may affect results should also be avoided. This is to ensure any infection causing bacteria are present at the time of the swab.

A rectal swab is used to collect samples to be tested for disease and infection.
A rectal swab is used to collect samples to be tested for disease and infection.

Rectal swabs can be done by nurses, general practitioners, and other family doctors. Some clinics may also offer rectal swabbing for the testing of certain illnesses. Once the swab is complete, specimens are sent to a lab for testing. Treatment may be given before test results return if symptoms of a particular infection are present.

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    • Bacterial infections which cause fever may require use of a rectal swab test.
      By: vladimirfloyd
      Bacterial infections which cause fever may require use of a rectal swab test.
    • A rectal swab invovles the insertion of a cotton swab into the rectum.
      By: Alexandr Mitiuc
      A rectal swab invovles the insertion of a cotton swab into the rectum.
    • Pregnant women may receive a rectal swab when being checked for strep B bacteria.
      By: vgstudio
      Pregnant women may receive a rectal swab when being checked for strep B bacteria.
    • A rectal swab may be used to test for parasitic infections.
      By: elisabetta figus
      A rectal swab may be used to test for parasitic infections.
    • A rectal swab is used to collect samples to be tested for disease and infection.
      By: kocakayaali
      A rectal swab is used to collect samples to be tested for disease and infection.