Reader "Derek Domino" anonymously asks: (yes, that was the name used to send the question 🙂)
Dear [Committee]: Are the PCR swabs, sterilized using Ethylene Oxide, safe? Thank you for your feedback. I'm due to have a test and I'm concerned about it but don't feel I can trust the Internet fact check sites.
My context: Nothing is "safe" if the negative thing arising out of it, happens to you. The rates of occurrence of negative things might be low, but bad outcomes always happen when > 100 million people are involved.
Is driving a car safe? Millions of people doing it daily, suggest it is. Ask the families and close friends of the 30-35,000 people who perish in motor vehicle related crashes in just the USA (it happens everywhere cars are used). I will go out on a limb and bet that group of people, family & friends of victims, believe cars are dangerous.
For anyone not immediately familiar with PCR, it is a polymerase chain reaction test performed to detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus. The test detects the presence from the sample, and could also detect virus fragments after the infection ends; i.e. symptoms disappear and no more virus replication, discharge, emanation or exhalation occurs.
The Committee says: This depends on frequency of exposure to ethylene oxide and cumulative amounts. If the small quantity used to sterilize a cotton swab is the extent of exposure, no harm will arise. Continued, ongoing exposure, such as in a chemical manufacturing environment, laboratory or production of the ethylene oxide itself, significantly increases the risk of cancer.
The better and harmless method for sterilizing a swab is exposure to the ultraviolet C spectrum. This is known but more expensive, requiring use of a device to make the light, plus protection methods to safeguard humans from exposure to it. Insertion of an item to be sterilized inside a closed box where the light is contained inside, is safe.
We suggest you make the process simple and inexpensive; bring your own small amount of vodka; dip the untreated swab into it, squeeze out excess with sterile gauze, then allow to dry.