This is good news, a device is over 95 per cent accurate at detecting both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, providing a response in under five minutes

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have created a prototype breathalyser designed to be as effective as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing at detecting the presence of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. In less than five minutes, the breathalyser is claimed to provide a result with over 95 per cent accuracy, detecting both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections.

To date, PCR technology is the most sensitive and accurate way to test for COVID-19. However, it involves complex lab processes, meaning that it can take hours, or even days, to get a test result back. Rapid antigen testing is another well-known method which is much faster but less accurate.

Given the lack of a test that is both fast and accurate, many researchers have been studying how to improve COVID-19 testing. Breathalysers have been one avenue of enquiry. However, a lot of the prototypes developed to date involve heavy lab equipment. The challenge has been to make the technology portable enough so that it can be scaled.

The new Singaporean prototype uses a method called Raman spectroscopy, which accurately identifies certain patterns of volatile organic compounds that correspond with a COVID-19 infection. This method is both affordable and portable, allowing to scale breathalyser screening in real-world environments. To collect a sample, only 10 seconds of breath is needed. The breathalyser is then inserted into a spectrometer, providing results in a few minutes.

A study was carried out on 501 individuals tested both with the new device and a PCR. The device showed a 0.1 percent false-positive rate and a 3.8 percent false-negative rate, which is equivalent in accuracy to a PCR test. The study was published in the journal ACS Nano.

I hope when this device will come out of the market it will be affordable for the general public.