COVID-19: PHE Advice on Taking Samples

Dawn O'Shea

February 20, 2020

Public Health England (PHE) has produced guidance on the samples required for establishing a diagnosis of COVID-19 acute respiratory disease (ARD) and how to request testing. Important recommendations include the following:

  • Isolate the patient in a single occupancy room, preferably a respiratory isolation room and ideally under negative pressure.

  • As a minimum, wear a correctly fitted filtering facepiece 3 respirator, gown, gloves and eye protection.

  • Clinical criteria for suspected COVID-19 are as follows:

    • Severe ARD requiring hospital admission with clinical or radiological evidence of pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome;

    • Acute respiratory infection of any severity, including at least one of shortness of breath (difficult breathing in children) or cough (with or without fever); or

    • Fever with no other symptoms.

  • Samples required for initial diagnostic testing: combined viral nose and throat swab, a viral nose swab and a viral throat swab combined into one pot of viral transport medium, a single swab used for throat then nose or a nasopharyngeal aspirate in a universal transport pot; lower respiratory tract sample (sputum), if obtainable, in universal container.

  • Label each sample with ID, date of birth and type of sample.

  • Use the specific form for requesting COVID-19 ARD testing (E28), one form for each sample.

  • Samples should be sent for testing to the designated regional laboratory.

  • All samples for COVID-19 testing should be packaged and transported in accordance with Category B transportation regulations and labelled ‘Priority 10’.

  • UN 3373 packaging must be used for sample transport.


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