A Breathalyzer-type test that can detect COVID-19 within seconds is currently being tested and could become a noninvasive, rapid alternative to nasal swab tests, according to researchers.
COVID-19 infection causes a distinct breath print from the interaction of oxygen, nitric oxide, and ammonia in the body. An initial study of the breath test found that it gave accurate results for COVID-19 infections in almost 90% of critically ill patients with the disease.
The breathalyzer test can detect COVID-19 in exhaled breath within 15 seconds, according to researchers who have applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.
The study included 46 intensive care patients with acute respiratory failure who required mechanical ventilation. All of the patients had a PCR COVID-19 (nasal swab) test upon admission to the ICU, half were found to have COVID-19.
The researchers collected exhaled breath bags from all of the patients on days 1, 3, 7, and 10 of their hospitalization, the samples were tested within four hours after collection.
The testing proved to be 88% accurate in detecting the breath print of COVID-19, according to the study published Oct. 28 in the journal PLOS ONE.
"The gold standard for diagnosis of COVID-19 is a PCR test that requires an uncomfortable nasal swab and time in a lab to process the sample and obtain the results," said lead researcher Dr. Matthew Exline, director of critical care at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
"This novel [Breathalyzer-type] technology uses nanosensors to identify and measure specific biomarkers in the breath," said test co-developer Pelagia-Irene Gouma, a professor in Ohio State's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
"This is the first study to demonstrate the use of a nanosensor [Breathalyzer-type] system to detect a viral infection from exhaled breath prints," Gouma said in an Ohio State news release.
"PCR tests often miss early COVID-19 infections and results can be positive after the infection has resolved," Exline said in the release. "However, this noninvasive breath test technology can pick up early COVID-19 infection within 72 hours of the onset of respiratory failure, allowing us to rapidly screen patients in a single step and exclude those without COVID-19 on mechanical ventilation."
The researchers plan to further assess the use of the technology to detect less severe COVID-19, as well as other infections and diseases.