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New device ‘has potential to detect COVID-19’ within 30 mins

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Scientists in the UK have found that a new electronic device can detect COVID-19 infection from body odour samples.

The scientists said in a new study that the device “could be a potential COVID-19 screening tool.”

The researchers, who are from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); RoboScientific Ltd, a biotechnology company; and Durham University, carried out the experiment with organic semi-conducting (OSC) sensors.

The study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, also found that the device could also be a breakthrough regarding air travel safety.

RoboScientific said the innovation has the potential “to get the world travelling safely”.

It said: “By installing one of our monitors in the cabin of a passenger plane, it would be possible to establish very early in the flight if any of the passengers are carrying the Covid-19 virus.

“Individual testing using the same technology is almost ready now, too. By taking a breath sample or a worn mask and testing them inside a handheld device, it should be possible to establish if someone is carrying the live virus within a matter of minutes without the need for any unpleasant swab testing.”

The study, published here, shows that COVID-19 infection has a distinct smell, resulting from changes in the volatile organic compounds (VOC) that make up the body odour.

With this, the scientists said the handheld sensors, which can be mounted on a wall, has the ability to detect the coronavirus positive odour in an enclosed space within 30 minutes.

When this happens, all those in the room would need to be tested individually to determine which of them is infected as the device only detects the presence of infection — not who is infected.

The scientists also said it detects the body odour with an accuracy rate of between 98 and 100 percent.

To determine how the new technology works, they took body odour samples from socks worn from 54 individuals, including 27 who had the coronavirus but were asymptomatic, and 27 who had negative diagnoses.

The samples were then analysed by RoboScientific’s Model 307B VOC analyser fitted with 12 OSC sensors which distinguished infected samples from non-infected ones.

James Logan, head of the department of disease control at LSHTM, who led the study said: “These results are really promising and demonstrate the potential for using this technology as a rapid, non-invasive test with incredible accuracy.

“However, further testing is required to confirm if these results can be replicated in real-world settings.

“If these devices are successfully developed for use in public places, they could be affordably and easily scaled up. They also could protect people against future disease outbreaks, with the capability to develop sensor arrays to detect other diseases within a number of weeks.”

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