Virology Samples

Swabs for Virology Testing

Virology is changing the swabs and transport medium it issues. The new “flock” swabs are an improvement over the previous type of swab provided by the laboratory.


The new viral transport medium provided with these swabs is the red topped “COPAN UTM medium”. It comes with a general purpose flocked swab which once used should put into the pink medium and then snapped off at the break point before tightly refitting the lid (see diagram on packet).

A Nasal and Throat swab for respiratory virus detection two swabs are required one supplied with the transport medium and the other provided separately. For adult testing, use a second general purpose flocked swab for the nasal swab. For paediatric testing a fine tipped swab is used as the nasal swab and the general purpose swab is used as the throat swab.

Both swabs should be placed into one UTM Transport Medium (COPAN).

The Vial should be clearly written giving two patient identifiers (see Pathology Labelling Policy).

The Microbiology request form should be completed and specifically “Respiratory Virus detection” requested. Do not request M,C&S as this is a request for bacterial investigations.

These swabs and transport medium should be used in all other situations where a viral cause is suspected.

Previous swabs and transport medium may still be used, to use up stocks.

Viral sample tubes 

Virus Transport Media can be ordered from microbiology faxing this request form.

Respiratory Samples

See above for new swabs

For detection of respiratory viruses, a nasopharyngeal aspirate or throat and nasal swab (combined) should be sent in viral transport medium (available from microbiology). A tracheal aspirate or broncheo-aveolar lavage fluid can also be sent in universal containers (VTM not required). Sputa will not be accepted for virus detection.

Genital Herpes Virus

Swabs for investigation of genital herpes should be sent in virus transport medium. If VTM this is not available (for example in the community setting) then swabs may be sent dry inside the plasic sheath they are supplied in.

Vesicle fluids

Using the flock swab as described above for respiratory samples, swab the vesicle thoroughly to ensure cellular material and fluid is picked up from the base of the vesicle. Place the swab in VTM.

Chlamydia Testing

What sample to send - THESE MUST BE IN "APTIMA" collection kits,for Urine,  Endocervical swabs or male urethral swabs. Click on above link for detailed description.

  • First pass morning urine
  • Vaginal swabs

How to Collect the Sample

  • Collect endocervical sample by speculum examination.
  • Remove any mucus or vaginal material from the cervical os.
  • Best insert the swab into the cervix and rotate for 15 - 30 seconds to guarantee collection of cells which contain chlamydia.
  • Remove swab from cervix. Avoid contact with vaginal mucosa when withdrawing it.
  • For male urethral samples insert swab into urethra and rotate for 3 - 5 seconds.
  • Place swab in tube and label
  • Urine samples will require a special preservative


Swab samples can be kept a 2 - 27 degrees Celsius for up to 4 - 6 days.

Serological tests and tests based on whole blood samples

  • The serology/virology section most commonly carries out tests on serum or plasma blood samples. Before sending a blood sample check if you require a serum or plasma sample for the test you request. This can be done using the online Test & Tubes database and you can look up tests listed by departments.
  • We carry out a variety of viral and bacterial diagnostics at the Old Medical School serology laboratory or refer them to reference laboratories. Please check our serum test repertoire on this website for more details on turnaround times and reference laboratories used.
  • As a general rule to help you decide which bottle/container to choose:

Serum Samples For antibody detection tests (e.g. Blood borne virus serology, serology for respiratory viruses, CMV, HSV, VZV , Rubella etc)
Plasma Samples For molecular tests (e.g. viral PCRs including HIV, Hepatitis B & C viral load, CMV, EBV viral load)
Other Samples PLEASE RING IF UNSURE WHAT TO SEND (e.g. CSF for syphilis serology - send in sterile universal container, urine legionella or pneumococcal antigen - send urine in sterile universal)

  • Please check Serology and Molecular Test Repertoire for a full list of tests available. If you like to request a special test please discuss it with us. We might be able to find a laboratory that carries out the desired test and will pass on the cost to you as requester when we receive the invoice.
  • If you are still unclear about the correct tube or availability of a test having read through the above we will be happy to assist you further when you contact our laboratory.


  • Use provided transport bag usually combined with request form.
  • Samples should reach the laboratory within 24 hrs. If this is not possible refrigerate.

For further information, please see the Serology How to Sample page in this section.

Page Reviewed: 04/03/16 | Updated by: Kevin Roberts