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What Is a Rectal Swab?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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