Instead of an invasive nasal swab, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are exploring the use of a breath test for the rapid screening of patients for COVID-19.
Results from the initial study in patients, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found the breath test is highly accurate in identifying COVID-19 infections in critically ill patients, according to a news release from the university.
“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 Matthew Exline, Director of Critical Care at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center University Hospital and Professor of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “The breathalyzer test used in our study can detect COVID-19 within seconds.”
COVID-19 infection produces a distinct breath print from the interaction of oxygen, nitric oxide and ammonia in the body. The breath detector device, developed by Pelagia-Irene Gouma, Researcher and Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at The Ohio State University and Milutin Stanaćević, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University, can detect the breath print of COVID-19 in exhaled breath within 15 seconds.
“This novel breathalyzer technology uses nanosensors to identify and measure specific biomarkers in the breath,” said Gouma. “This is the first study to demonstrate the use of a nanosensor breathalyzer system to detect a viral infection from exhaled breath prints.”
The study followed 46 patients in the intensive care unit with acute respiratory failure that required mechanical ventilation. Half of the patients had an active COVID-19 infection, and the remaining half didn’t have COVID-19. All patients had a PCR COVID-19 test when they were admitted to the unit.
Researchers collected exhaled breath bags from the patients on day 1, 3, 7 and 10 of their inpatient stay. The breath bag samples were tested within 4 hours of sample collection in a lab. The breath print was identified in patients with COVID-19 pneumonia with 88% accuracy upon admission to the ICU.
“PCR tests often miss early COVID-19 infections and results can be positive after the infection has resolved,” Exline said. “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.”