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Debunked: No, the Covid-19 swab test cannot enter the brain and cause damage

The Covid-19 swab is not powerful enough to break through bone, a professor said.
Sep 18th 2020, 5:23 PM 23,850 36

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A FALSE CLAIM has been shared on social media alleging that the Covid-19 nasal swab test creates an entry point to the brain for other infections.

This is not true, mainly because the swab would not be strong enough to break through bone and reach the brain. 

The post also claims that the nasal swab test is not, in fact, a test for Covid-19 but that it is a test for “fragments of previous cold remnants”. This is also untrue. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin Shane O’Mara said: ”Everything about this is wrong.”

The claim

swab test debunked One version of this claim shared on Facebook recently.

Several versions of the post have been shared on Facebook pages in Ireland in recent days, one of which has been shared over 200 times. 

“This assault is dangerous! This information comes from my colleague doctors,” the post says. 

It reads: “Brain access is through the nose… Inserting a test bar deeply into the nose causes haematoencephal barrier damage and can also damage endocrine glands (e.g. hypophysis). That’s why testing hurts so much!” it reads.  

The hematoencephalic barrier, otherwise known as the blood-brain barrier, is a border of cells that prevents the majority of solutes in the blood entering the brain. 

Endocrine glands release hormones into the blood and hypophysis (more commonly known as the pituitary gland) is one of these. 

“The purpose of this deep violation, is to break the barrier and create an entry into the brain for every infection,” the post goes on to say. 

The post also makes claims about CO2 being “transported to the brain” while wearing a face mask, which is untrue and has previously been factchecked.

It claims that if endocrine glands are damaged, symptoms such as muscle weakness, blood circulation and visual disturbances may develop.  

It says “no wonder so many “covid survivors” have long term issues” due to the “most sensitive body violation” of the Covid-19 test currently used in Ireland. 

This claim has already been debunked by FactCheck.org, the BBC and AFP

Why it is wrong

Adults in Ireland are tested for Covid-19 using a nasopharyngeal test – a swab which extends through to the back of the nose.

O’Mara said it would be impossible for the swab (which is similar to a long cotton bud) to break through bone into the brain primarily because it is made of plastic and inserted at the wrong angle to access the brain.

“The nasal swab is not a metal spike,” he said. 

There is too much bone in place and you have something that’s basically a straw with a little cotton wool at the end. How is that going to penetrate anything?

“The swab itself is not made of material capable of travelling or penetrating through tissue or bone.” 

O’Mara said the angle of approach for the swab is also “all wrong” if it were intended to reach the brain.

“The angle of approach presented is actually towards the throat. If you did somehow get through the bone, then you must also get through the meninges,” he said, referring to a tough tissue containing cerebrospinal fluid (clear fluid found in the spinal cord and brain).

He said only a very sharp object such as a scalpel would have the ability to do this. 

“There would be an immediate and fairly dramatic leakage of cerebrospinal fluid, causing the brain to come to rest in the skull.

“This would be an astonishingly serious medical event,” he said. 

He said the pictures used in the post are anatomically inaccurate and added that the brain is “much higher up in the head than people think it is”. 

Last week alone in Ireland, the Department of Health said 80,030 Covid-19 tests were carried out.

In total, more than one million tests have been carried out in the Republic since the beginning of the outbreak.

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In terms of how the swab is inserted into the nose, one HSE document says: “Insert the swab into the nostril sweeping the floor of the septum and insert as far as but no further than the red mark on the swab stick. (This should be approximately half way between the nostril and the ear).”

It also includes this image as instruction.

nasal swab test Nasal swab instruction from the HSE. Source: HSE

At no point during this process does the person’s brain get affected nor is an “entry point” created. 

The HSE and the Department of Health told TheJournal.ie that claims like this “have no scientific basis or evidence to support them”. 

Professor Shane O’Mara said: “The swabbing procedure is undoubtedly unpleasant… but people aren’t dying as a result of swabs being put into their heads.” 

*******

There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not.

STOP, THINK AND CHECK

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

TheJournal.ie's coronavirus newsletter cuts through the misinformation and noise with the clear facts you need to make informed choices. Sign up here


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Orla Dwyer

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