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OSU Wexner Medical Center Researchers Develop Breath Test for COVID-19

An Ohio State Wexner Medical Center employee operates a new breathalyzer that tests for COVID-19.
Ohio State Wexner Medical Center
An Ohio State Wexner Medical Center employee operates a new breathalyzer that tests for COVID-19.

OSU Wexner Medical Center researchers have created a breathalyzer that can test people for COVID-19.

The test identifies the disease within 15 seconds. The standard PCR test can take days.

Dr. Pelagia-Irene (Perena) Gouma, professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at OSU was one of two researchers to develop the device.

She said the test proved efficient in the trial phase.

“You have a test that is extremely rapid, it seems to be very reliable, and it performs better than PCR, [which] in most cases has between 78 and 90% accuracy,” Gouma said. “We had 88% in the ICU.”

Gouma said the device is used similarly to breath tests for alcohol.

“The technology is similar; it’s been used similarly to an alcohol breathalyzer,” Gouma said. “Someone exhales into a mouthpiece, and then you get an answer whether someone, in that case, is intoxicated or not; in our case, someone has COVID or not.”

The device would allow people to quickly test themselves rather than going to a testing center, which Gouma said would benefit everyone from travelers to students.

”Imagine in every school or every retail store, sports stadium, any place, athletics venue or restaurant, if the individual has this tool they can just [test themselves] just before going there, just before meeting relatives, and they know if they are well or not,” Gouma said. “That’s the potential of this technology.”

Results from the initial ICU study were published Thursday in the medical journal PLOS ONE. The OSU researchers have applied for FDA emergency use authorization and hope the breathalyzer will be made available for purchase over the counter.

Gouma added that in addition to the breath test providing better accuracy than the PCR test, it can also detect COVID-19 at an earlier stage, as well as allow COVID-19 patients to know more precisely when they are no longer infected.

“And number two, we know when the end of the disease is, whereas the PCR test shows positive for a long time. And also, we are able to detect early disease,” Gouma said.

Researchers utilizing the breath test were able to identify COVID-19 in patients by observing how the virus reacts with oxygen, nitric oxide, and ammonia in a person's body, according to a press release from the Wexner Medical Center.