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Photo: Basilico Studio Stock (Shutterstock) At-home rapid tests for COVID-19 instruct you to stir a cotton swab inside each nostril before sliding the swab into its little testing tube or card. But some people have posted pictures on social media comparing a negative at-home nasal swab with a positive at-home throat swab, and even some experts are saying that the throat swabs are more likely to pick up an early infection. But the real story is a bit more complicated. You see, the at-home tests were only validated for nasal samples. If they turn out to be able to reliably detect the COVID virus in throat swab samples, that would be great—but we don’t know yet if we can rely on those results. To understand what’s going on with the throat swab situation, I called Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California whose work focuses on tests for infectious disease. A throat swab, Butler-Wu says, “is going to be right some of the time; but what percentage of the time is it wrong?” The only way to know would be to do a study comparing this new way of testing with the results you get from other tests. “In the laboratory when we come up with a new test, we don’t just start using it. We have to validate it and make sure that it works, and that there are no interfering substances.” The specifics matter Tests can produce unreliable results when you use them […]