The future of COVID-19 health screenings at airports and large events may look very different if Chinese researchers continue to be successful with a new breath test. Patients exhale into a bag for 30 seconds then results are produced in a mere 5 to 10 minutes.
Global Times announced in late October that the breath test was being developed by a team under Yao Maosheng, a professor at the College of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at Peking University, and had achieved 91 to 100% accuracy in detecting COVID-19 infection.
Together with the Laboratory of Environmental Simulation and Pollution Control of Peking University and Chaoyang's CDC in Beijing, the study has thus far been conducted on a smaller scale with a mixture of 191 healthy people and patients with COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses. The test analyzes the exhalation samples based on an algorithm using 12 volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
When VOCs are used in the algorithm, COVID-19 has a kind of ‘fingerprint’ presented in patients, with the breath of COVID-19 patients showing higher propanol levels but lower levels of breath-borne acetone in comparison to the two other groups of the study.
In other parts of the world, breathalyzer style of tools have had some measure of success, with one team of researchers in the US achieving 88% efficiency but failing to pass the standard set by molecular tests already approved by the FDA.
Singaporean company Breathonix has produced a 60-second test with 93 to 95% accuracy using a similar VOC analysis method as the Chinese research team. Breathonix has held trials in Dubai with a study involving 2,500 patients.
Both the Singaporean and Chinese tests are produced at significantly lower costs, with the Chinese test costing a low RMB10 and the Singaporean test costing between USD3.75 to 15 depending upon quantity purchased.
Along with being invasive and time consuming, nose or throat swabbing tests cannot always accurately detect the virus. At other times they have resulted in false positives when the infection has already passed.
A paper released last year documented the German study of 12 autopsies and showed that though all of the COVID-19 patients had the virus in their lungs, only 9 out of the 12 had the virus in their throats. Throat swabs therefore could be limited in detection ability due to the viral spread specific to each individual.
Switching to breath-analyzing tests may be the gateway to early detection of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic infections, prevention of outbreaks and reduction of the public’s pain when testing.
[Cover image via Pixabay]