1-minute COVID breathalyser tests are coming to transform rapid testing

It was recently announced that researchers from Washington University have made a novel breathalyser that can detect the COVID-19 virus in only one minute by checking your breath. This device could change how we test for the virus, making it even quicker and easier. It could be extremely useful in places like hospitals, schools, concerts, and sports events.

Making rapid more rapid

We’re all intimately familiar with rapid COVID-19 tests or RATS as we so fondly call them. They take around 15 minutes and range in sensitivity from high (oral fluid) to very high (nasal swab). People with low viral loads or in the early stages of infection might not be accurately detected, and to increase reliability of the test, some people take these tests over a series of hours or days. 

The more accurate molecular tests (PCR tests) can take days to give results. 

Both tests can involve putting a swab up your nose, which isn’t something anyone enjoys.

It’s important to note that despite these drawbacks, rapid tests still play a valuable role in identifying potential cases quickly, especially when used in combination with other testing methods and public health measures.

In the wake of the global pandemic, our approach to social gatherings and events has undergone a profound transformation. With health and safety concerns at the forefront of planning, innovative solutions have emerged to navigate these new challenges. 

The COVID-19 breathalyser is touted to be a technological marvel that uses as little as two exhaled breaths and provides accurate results in around a minute.

How did they do it?

At its core, the technology behind COVID-19 breathalysers is both fascinating and promising. These devices are designed to detect the presence of viral particles in an individual’s breath, offering results within minutes. 

The same group of researchers from Washington University wrote a paper titled “Real-time environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 aerosols” which discussed a monitor they developed to quickly detect the COVID-19 virus in the air

“There is nothing at the moment that tells us how safe a room is. If you are in a room with 100 people, you don’t want to find out five days later whether you could be sick or not. The idea with this device is that you can know essentially in real-time, or every 5 minutes, if there is a live virus.” said John Cirrito, professor of neurology at Washington University.

As quoted in their research “Air enters the sampler at very high velocities and gets mixed centrifugally with the fluid that lines the walls of the sampler to create a surface vortex, thereby trapping the virus aerosols. The wet cyclone sampler has an automated pump that collects the fluid and sends it to the biosensor for seamless detection of the virus using electrochemistry.

This figure depicts the particle trajectory inside the cyclone sampler during air sampling. The Washington University team used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations to gain insight into the size-dependent collection efficiency of aerosols inside the wet cyclone. (Image: Joseph Puthussery). Source.

“The challenge with airborne aerosol detectors is that the level of virus in the indoor air is so diluted that it even pushes toward the limit of detection of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and is like finding a needle in a haystack. The high virus recovery by the wet cyclone can be attributed to its extremely high flow rate, which allows it to sample a larger volume of air over a 5-minute sample collection compared with commercially available samplers.”  said Rajan Chakrabarty, Associate Professor at Washington University.

The breathalysers follow the same principles as these airborne aerosol detectors but in a portable device. 

What are the implications?

Doctors could use this test in their offices to quickly identify if someone located in the space has the virus. If and when new strains of COVID-19 or other airborne pathogenic diseases arise, such devices also could also potentially be used to screen people at public events. The breath test could also stop outbreaks in places where many people live closely together, like on ships, in nursing homes, at colleges, and military bases. 

With a manufacturing price of less than US$10 per test, the researchers believe this device is not only affordable but also easy to use without needing special training, and is non-invasive.

The researchers mention that the breath test might be adjusted to find other viruses like the flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) at the same time. They’re also confident that they can modify the tool to detect new diseases within two weeks of receiving samples of those viruses to test.

Although the initial findings show promise, the researchers are now in the process of confirming the validity of their device through a longitudinal clinical study. This is a truly innovative technology that could really help.  Watch out for in the near future!

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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