The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization for the first breath test to detect COVID19, the regulator authority said in a press release.
With the threat of the COVID19 pandemic still looming, there is a need for detection methods that can quickly identify people. PCR-based tests are very accurate, but have the major disadvantage of long waiting times for results. On the other hand, antigen testing can provide instant results but is highly dependent on the components supply chain. A breath test combines the best of both worlds. without its disadvantages.
How does it work?
The detection device, called InspectIR, is about the size of a carry-on luggage and uses disposable paper straws as consumables to conduct the test. It requires the person to be tested to blow on paper straw, which is then inserted in-to the sample analysis tray to determine if the test is positive or not. Singapore approved a similar device 10 months ago.
The technique used in this case is called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), in which the air sample on paper straw is vaporized and its contents are bombarded with a high-energy electron beam. The sample is broken down into smaller molecules, which are analyzed by their mass-to-charge ratio. .
In the case of this detection, InspectIR only look-out for 5 compounds that have been linked to COVID19 infection and returns a test as positive within 3 minutes, if they are found.
Where will you likely see the instrument?
Due to its fast detection rate, the instrument is designed for mass testing. This isn’t the type of testing where a lot of screening kits are distributed through the mail and testing is done in the comfort of your own home.
Instead, a healthcare professional will need to collect a sample, although it’s not as invasive as a nasal swab. The instrument is likely to be used in healthcare establishment such as nursing homes or hospitality, where large numbers of people are seen on a daily basis. You are more likely to provide a sample for such testing before boarding a plane in the future.
In a study of more than 2,400 people, the device was able to accurately detect 91.2% of cases. However, despite FDA approval, a positive test is only “presumptive” and must be confirmed with a PCR test, ABC News reported.
The company that designed the device plans to manufacture about 100 such devices a week and rent them out to industries interested in mass testing.
Probably, the next time you get tested for COVID19, you probably just need to relax & exhale.