Just the Facts: Taking a Nasopharyngeal (NP) Swab

Photographic instruction on taking a nasopharyngeal swab

Respiratory virus packs normally contain materials sufficient for 4 to 6 swabs for culture of respiratory viruses such as influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus.

The following will be needed:

  • Masks, goggles, gowns, and gloves
  • Cotton swab
  • Plastic swab with fibre tip
  • Viral transport medium
  • Pen


  1. Call the Health Unit to ensure that an outbreak number is assigned to the specimen and that the Public Health Lab is notified.
  2. Put on your personal protective equipment (mask, goggles, gown, and gloves).
  3. Position person with bed raised to 45 degrees or in a comfortable position.
  4. Clean nares with the cotton swab.
  5. Estimate the distance the swab will need to be inserted into the nose, by ensuring the distance from the tip of the earlobe to the tip of the nose. As a rule of thumb, the swab will need to be inserted approximately half of that distance (see picture).
  6. Incline person’s head as shown in picture and gently insert the swab into the nostril to the previously determined mark.
  7. Rotate swab 3 to 5 times as tolerated and leave it in place for a few seconds to absorb the material.
  8. Withdraw swab and insert into transport medium provided. Break swab shaft evenly at the scored line and cap vial tightly. Don’t forget to label specimen container.
  9. Complete requisition form with all pertinent information.
  10. Use sealable bag to transport specimen to the laboratory:
    • Place transport medium in sealable bag.
    • Seal bag by removing blue strip to reveal adhesive.
    • Place requisition in outer pocket.
    • Refrigerate specimen immediately.

Remember: Viral transport medium may be stored at room temperature until it is used Always check expiry date on transport  medium before use.

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