Scientists a step closer to the Covid-19 breathalyser test

CAPE TOWN – Scientists have developed a breathalyser prototype that is able to detect Covid-19 non-evasively in the exhaled breath of infected patients.

As the Covid-19 infection rate continues to rise millions of people throughout the world have gone through what is now seen as a traditional testing method for Covid-19, with a swab through the nose or mouth but this may shortly come to an end with scientists reporting in ACS Nano (American Chemist Society) have developed a prototype device that detects Covid-19 from the exhaled breath of infected patients.

The device works similar to a breathalyser test for alcohol intoxication with Hossam Haick, Hu Liu, Yueyin Pan and colleagues aiming to develop the device based on previous studies finding that viruses and the cells they infect emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can be exhaled in the breath.

The researchers made an array of gold nanoparticles linked to molecules that are sensitive to various VOCs that reacts and causes a change in electrical resistance. The researchers then trained the sensor to detect Covid-19 by comparing the electrical resistance signals recorded from 49 infected patients, 58 healthy patients and 33 patients with lung infections unrelated to Covid-19 with each participant blew into the device for 2-3 seconds from a distance of 1-2cm.

Once a pattern was identified, the team of researches tested the accuracy of the device on another subset of participants finding the device to show 76 percent accuracy in detecting Covid-19 and 95 percent accuracy in identifying lung infections unrelated to Covid-19. The sensor could also distinguish, with 88 percent accuracy, between sick and recovered Covid-19 patients.

Although the test requires further testing and development, right now it could be useful for screening a large population to determine the need for further testing.

Researchers hope this device reduces the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak eliminating the swab tests which requires RT-PCR which is a time-consuming laboratory procedure and in effect reduce backlogs and turnaround times for results helping reduce transmission and mortality rates by providing healthcare facilities with this quick, inexpensive and easy-to-use testing devices.


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