Prof Mark Hatherill, dr Angelique Luabeya and Danelle van As have co-authored a "Preferences of healthcare workers using tongue swabs for tuberculosis diagnosis during COVID-19" appearing in PLOS Global Public Health Journal
Healthcare workers (HCWs) who come into contact with tuberculosis (TB) patients are at elevated risk of TB infection and disease.
The collection and handling of sputum samples for TB diagnosis poses exposure risks to HCWs, particularly in settings where aerosol containment is limited. An alternative sample collection method, tongue swabbing, was designed to help mitigate this risk, and is under evaluation in multiple settings. This study assessed risk perceptions among South African HCWs who used tongue swabbing in TB diagnostic research during the COVID-19 pandemic. We characterized their context-specific preferences as well as the facilitators and barriers of tongue swab use in clinical and community settings. Participants (n = 18) were HCWs with experience using experimental tongue swabbing methods at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI). We used key informant semi-structured interviews to assess attitudes toward two tongue swab strategies: Provider-collected swabbing (PS) and supervised self-swabbing (SSS). Responses from these interviews were analyzed by rapid qualitative analysis and thematic analysis methods. Facilitators included aversion to sputum (PS and SSS), perceived safety of the method (SSS), and educational resources to train patients (SSS). Barriers included cultural stigmas, as well as personal security and control of their work environment when collecting swabs in community settings. COVID-19 risk perception was a significant barrier to the PS method. Motivators for HCW use of tongue swabbing differed substantially by use case, and whether the HCW has the authority and agency to implement safety precautions in specific settings. These findings point to a need for contextually specific educational resources to enhance safety of and adherence to the SSS collection method.