PICS: Swab gets stuck inside woman’s lung during coronavirus test

  • A coronavirus test swab got stuck inside a patient's lung after it snapped and went down her breathing tube
  • The swab was picked up only after an endoscopy was performed
  • Doctors removed the object and cautioned healthcare workers about the importance of conducting tests safely

A 51-year-old patient ended up with a snapped coronavirus test swab inside her lung after it was inserted into a breathing tube in her neck, a BMJ case report revealed.

READ | Woman suffers brain fluid leak after having nasal test for Covid-19

The woman was undergoing brain surgery in a UK hospital to remove a fragment of her skull. As part of her treatment, a tracheostomy tube – placed into the windpipe to assist with breathing – was fitted.

After the operation, medical staff at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS (National Health Service) Trust sent the patient to undergo a coronavirus test as part of normal protocol before discharging her to a nursing home.

Since the patient had been breathing through the hole in her neck and could have potentially become infected with the virus through this airway, medical staff took a swab through her tracheostomy tube.

However, a nurse carrying out the test felt the swab snap during the procedure, and part of it ended up in the patient’s windpipe.

The test swab is designed to snap into a test tube to be sent to the lab.

test swab

 The test swab is designed to snap to fit into the test tube (image source: BMJ Case Reports)

'Case highlights the need for guidance' 

According to the case report, the patient became "momentarily unsettled" and began breathing more heavily for a while before returning to normal.

A CT scan of the woman's chest was performed, but the images did not reveal any signs of a foreign object. However, it did indicate an unusual swelling in the lower part of her right lung.

Upon further analysis of the images, doctors suspected that a foreign object was present, and conducted a flexible endoscopy (looking inside the body by inserting an instrument with a camera and light).

The endoscope was inserted into the tracheostomy site, and the swab was identified in the right lung.

test swab

 A still from the video showing the white tip of the swab inside the patient's lung (image source: BMJ Case Reports)

The swab was later removed using flexible bronchoscopy – a procedure that allows doctors to look at lungs and air passages.

“This case highlights the need for clear guidance on how samples for SARS-CoV-2 are taken from patients with front of neck airways… and the potential pitfalls involved,” the doctors wrote in their report.

READ | Trial launched in SA to test whether MMR vaccine protects healthcare workers against Covid-19

READ | Blood test could spot those at highest risk for severe Covid-19

Image: Unsplash/mufid majnun

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