A nurse holds swabs and test tube to test people for coronavirus. Image Credit: AP

Tianyune: With the left hand holding a transparent plastic shield covering a patient's mouth, and the right hand sticking a swab through the shield into her mouth, a nurse in a Wuhan hospital successfully collected a throat swab sample in just 20 seconds.

The 3D-printed throat swab sampling shield, which effectively prevents droplet infection, was invented by two nurses from the Second Hospital of Shanxi Medical University. They drew inspiration from the daily practice of administering the COVID-19 nucleic acid test (NAT).

The nurses, Li Yaqin and Pan Bo were members of the medical assistance team of north China's Shanxi Province to Wuhan. Their team practiced throat swab sampling on more than 250 patients over the past month. "Traditional sampling increases infection risks because patients' saliva is easily transmitted onto a medic's facial shield during the process," said Li.

They came up with the idea to cover a patient's mouth without compromising the operation accuracy. With the help from Qingdao Pulee Medical Technology Co., their design was realized after several adjustments through 3D printing.

This transparent polypropylene-made throat swab sampling shield, 14 cm long and 13 cm wide, has a hole with a diameter of 8 mm for the swab to pass through. On the patient's side is a tongue spatula of 7 cm long and about 1 cm wide, which can suit most people.

"Based on our practice and patients' feedback, the new device can greatly shorten the sampling time from more than 1 minute to just about 20 seconds. And more importantly, our medics receive much better protection," said Pan. A patent has been applied, and mass production will be started within the month, the manufacturer said.

"Domestic demand is expected to reach 200,000 to 300,000 by the end of May. Our present daily production capacity is around 10,000. But we are capable of expanding production capacity at any time," said Wang Gensheng, general manager of Pulee Medical, adding that the device can also be applied to throat swab sampling of other diseases such as flu and diphtheria.