Jan. 20, 2022: This article was updated to include new data about the sensitivity of throat swabs.
Over the past two years, diagnosing a coronavirus infection has often required probing the nose. Health care workers have inserted slender swabs deep into the recesses of Americans’ nasal passages, while at-home test kits have asked us to master the shallow double-nostril twirl.
“The traditional approach to diagnosing respiratory infections has been to go after the nose,” said Dr. Donald Milton, an expert on respiratory viruses at the University of Maryland.
But the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, and questions about the sensitivity of at-home tests, have rekindled a debate over whether the best way to detect the virus is to sample a different site: the mouth.
“The virus shows up first in your mouth and throat,” Dr. Milton said. “That means that the approach we’re taking to testing has problems.”