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Retraction of study on China's controversial anal-swab COVID-19 test

An article claiming that anal swabs can be used to detect SARS-CoV-2 in patients cured of COVID-19 has been retracted after the journal found that the authors failed to get permission from the patients to conduct the study.

To be clear, Retraction Watch reports: "We’re not sure if the researchers – from Weihai Municipal Hospital, in Shandong, China – didn’t tell the patients they were taking anal swabs (which seems, well, unlikely) or that they didn’t tell them they would be using the results of the swabs in a study (the more reasonable interpretation). But the notice is vague on that point."

Retraction Watch reports that in January the Chinese government in January launched a programme to implement widespread anal swabbing to look for SARS-CoV-2 – a plan that did not meet with cheers from the local population.

The article appeared in July in Future Microbiology.

According to the abstract:
Since December 2019, an outbreak of SARS coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) began in Wuhan, and has rapidly spread worldwide. Previously, discharged patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients met the criteria of China’s pneumonia diagnosis and treatment program of novel coronavirus infection (trial version 7) for cure of viral infection. Nevertheless, positive detection of SARS-CoV-2 has been found again in several cured COVID-19 patients, leading to conflicts with current criteria. Here, we report clinically cured cases with positive results only in anal swabs, and investigate the clinical value of anal swabs for SARS-CoV-2 detection.

The study, which has been cited just once, according to Clarivate AnalyticsWeb of Science – included four patients: a 3-year-old boy, two men, ages 45 and 23, and a 37-year-old woman.

The retraction notice states:
The following article has been retracted from Future Microbiology as it did not meet the ethical standards of the Journal, owing to a lack of informed consent obtained from the patients, prior to publication:
Mei Sun, Dong Guo, Jing Zhang, Jian Zhang, Hai-Feng Teng, Jun Xia, Peng Liu, Quan-Xu Ge, Ming-Yi Wang, ‘Anal swab as a potentially optimal specimen for SARS-CoV-2 detection to evaluate hospital discharge of COVID-19 patients’ appearing in the August issue of Future Microbiol. 15(12), 1101–1107 (2020).

The authors and editors of Future Microbiology regret any negative consequences this publication might have caused in the scientific and medical communities.

Interestingly, Retraction Watch reports, the article claims that: This study was approved by the Weihai Municipal Hospital review board, and the need for informed consent was waived.


Full Retraction Watch report (Open access)

Future Microbiology study and retraction (Open access)


See also MedicalBrief archives:

Diplomatic row over China’s anal swab tests for foreigners

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