Coronavirus testing: French scientists develop new breathalyser device to diagnose COVID-19
Currently, the gold standard test for COVID-19 in suspected patients is an RT-PCR test which is expensive and time-consuming
More than 22 million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, across the globe. Due to the highly contagious nature of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, people have been asked to wear masks, maintain social distance and follow proper hand hygiene. As the rate of infection spread is rising at rapidly, healthcare professionals are struggling to test people at such a large scale. To overcome this problem, scientists from Lyon, France have developed a machine which can test suspected COVID-19 patients by examining their breath.
Current testing protocols for the scanning of COVID-19 infection
Currently, the gold standard test for scanning for COVID-19 in patients is an RT-PCR test which is an expensive and time-consuming laboratory procedure that gives a result within 24 to 48 hours of testing. Due to the high demand for the test, obtaining the results for a single patient can often take several days. In order to prevent further transmission of the disease and to reduce the mortality rates, the doctors need tests which are easy-to-use, inexpensive and yield quick results.
How did the breathalyzer work for testing COVID-19 disease?
As per a recent research, published in the journal ACS Nano on 18th August 2020, the researchers Hossam Haick, Hu Liu and Yueyin Pan along with other colleagues in Wuhan, China have developed a nanomaterial-based sensor which can detect COVID-19 in the exhaled breath.
The device is similar to a breathalyser which is used to test alcohol intoxication. It is based on the fact that viruses and the cells infected by the virus can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be exhaled in the breath. In this device, the researchers arranged a set of gold nanoparticles sensors which had molecules on it that were sensitive to various VOCs. Whenever the VOCs came in contact with the molecules present on the nanoparticle, the electrical resistance of the device changed, thus detecting the disease.
Breathalyser: An effective test for COVID-19 detection
To test the effectiveness of the device, the researchers tested it on 49 patients with confirmed COVID-19 infection, 58 healthy people as control and 33 patients with non-COVID lung infection in Wuhan, China.
The participants were asked to blow into the device for 2 to 3 seconds from a distance of 1 to 2 centimetres.
The results of the study showed that the device was 76 percent accurate in distinguishing COVID-19 cases from controls and 95 percent correct in distinguishing COVID-19 cases from those with lung infections. The scientists further stated that the sensors were also effective in discriminating between sick and recovered COVID-19 patients with an accuracy of 88 percent.
The scientists believe that the device requires further testing but it can be useful in determining the presence of infection in places with large populations. The device is also being tested in a French hospital and is expected to be available soon.
For more information, read our article on Who can get tested for COVID-19 infection.
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