Researchers at Ohio State University have developed a breath test for COVID-19 that can detect infection within seconds. The basis of the test is the unique “breathing fingerprint” of COVID-19 identified by researchers, and this includes a specific mixture of oxygen, nitric oxide and ammonia in the breath.
At this point in the pandemic, many people have been tested for COVID-19, and testing remains a key tool in tracking and containing the virus. While PCR tests remain the gold standard method for virus detection, rapid testing methods have their place and usually involve a small sacrifice of accuracy for a significant increase in convenience and speed. As we learn to live alongside the virus, the demand for technologies that allow rapid screening will increase, and researchers rise to the challenge by developing new technologies.
This latter approach involves the use of breathing as a non-invasive and rapid test method. “The gold standard for diagnosing COVID-19 is a PCR test that requires an uncomfortable nasal swab and time in the lab to process the sample and get the results,” said study co-author Dr. Matthew Exlin. “The alcohol test used in our study can detect COVID-19 within seconds.”
The airway is the primary site of COVID-19 infection, and so it seems obvious that it can leave telltale signs in our breath. To characterize the unique hallmark of COVID-19 in breathing, researchers evaluated the exhaled breaths of 46 patients in the intensive care unit, 23 of whom had COVID-19. The researchers collected exhaled samples over several days, and then analyzed them using a nanosensor system they developed.
“This new ventilator technology uses nanosensors to identify and measure specific vital signs in breathing,” Pelagia Irene Juma said. “This is the first study to demonstrate the use of a breathing sensor nano-analysis system to detect viral infection from exhaled breath fingerprints.”
Researchers have identified a respiratory signature of COVID-19 that includes a high concentration of exhaled nitric oxide. This featured breath profile was useful in identifying COVID-19 in patients and showed an accuracy of 88%.
“PCR tests often miss early COVID-19 infections and results can be positive after the infection clears,” Exlin said. “However, this non-invasive breath testing technology can catch early COVID-19 infection within 72 hours of the onset of respiratory failure, allowing us to rapidly screen patients in one step and exclude those who do not have COVID-19 on mechanical ventilation.”
The study in PLUS ONE: Exhaled nitric oxide detection for the diagnosis of COVID-19 in critically ill patients
Via: Ohio State University