Breathalyzer test can detect COVID-19 in seconds

Breathalyzer test can detect COVID-19 in seconds

Even as coronavirus pandemic continues to spread and wreak havoc around the world, offices and business activities have started resuming under certain restrictions.

When the world entered the third phase of phase-wise upliftment of the COVID-19 induced lockdown earlier this month, the governments issued guidelines relaxing curbs on more activities outside the containment zones. Hotels and weekly markets are allowed to reopen now.  

Currently, Infrared Thermometers (IR thermometer) are used in many restaurants, airports, supermarkets and offices as a way to ensure that people entering premises do not have a fever, which is one of the symptoms of COVID-19. But testing for temperature is not a useful intervention, especially in asymptomatic cases.

Would not it be nice if we have a handy device that can accurately detect both asymptomatic and symptomatic patients instantly anywhere? 

Here’s the good news! Researchers have developed a prototype device that detects the novel coronavirus in the exhaled breath of COVID-19 patients. Yes, it works just like a breathalyser machine that detects alcohol consumption in one’s body. Sounds great, right?

Read on to know more about this new coronavirus breathalyzer test.

Coronavirus Breathalyzer Test: How It Works

The prototype coronavirus breathalyser test is developed by researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China. It is a sensor-based on special materials made of ultrasmall nanoparticles that can detect COVID-19 in exhaled breath, just like a breathalyser test for alcohol intoxication.

The device is made of an array of gold nanoparticles that are fused to molecules which are extremely sensitive to volatile organic compounds or VOCs – which the researchers said are emitted by viruses and the cells they infect. When VOCs interact with molecules on the device, the electric resistance of the material changes, they explained in their study paper published in the journal ACS Nano.

Device Can Detect COVID-19 As Well As Lung Infection

To test the device’s accuracy, the researchers recruited 49 COVID-19 positive patients, 58 healthy individuals and 33 non-COVID lung infection patients. The volunteers were asked to breathe into the device for a few seconds from a distance of two centimeters. Using machine learning (ML), they then compared the electric resistance signal patterns derived from their breath.

Based on their test results, the researchers claim that the device is 76 percent accurate in finding COVID-19 patients from healthy individuals, and 95 percent accurate in distinguishing between people with COVID-19 and people with other kinds of lung infection.

Interestingly, they said that the device can also distinguish between sick and recovered COVID-19 patients with 88 percent accuracy. However, the developers noted that more testing is needed to confirm the efficacy of this novel coronavirus breathalyser test.

They hope that if validated with further studies, this invention may lead to a reduction in the number of unneeded confirmatory tests, and lower the burden on the hospitals.

The current COVID-19 testing is time-consuming and uncomfortable, said the researchers, adding that healthcare systems need quick, inexpensive, and easy-to-use tests to reduce transmission and mortality rates.

Written by Retha Brown

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