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Non-Invasive Breath Test Identifies COVID-19 Infection within 72 Hours of Onset of Respiratory Failure in Critically Ill Patients

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 29 Oct 2021
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Image: COVID-19 Breathalyzer Test (Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)
Image: COVID-19 Breathalyzer Test (Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)

A unique breath test has been found to be highly accurate in identifying COVID-19 infections in critically ill patients.

Instead of an invasive nasal swab, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (Columbus, OH, USA) are exploring the use of a breath test for the rapid screening of patients for COVID-19. 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 the researchers can detect the breath print of COVID-19 in exhaled breath within 15 seconds.

For their study, the researchers followed 46 patients in the intensive care unit with acute respiratory failure who required mechanical ventilation. Half of the patients had an active COVID-19 infection and the remaining half did not have COVID-19. All the patients had done a PCR COVID-19 test when they were admitted to the unit. The researchers collected exhaled breath bags from the patients on day one, three, seven and 10 of their inpatient stay. The breath bag samples were tested within four 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.

The use of breathalyzer technology to rapidly diagnose patients with respiratory infections has the potential to greatly improve the ability to rapidly screen both patients and asymptomatic people. Future studies will look at the use of this technology for less severe COVID-19 patients and will explore whether other diseases and infections could benefit from it. The research team has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization of the breathalyzer technology.

“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 Dr. Matthew Exline, lead researcher, 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.”

“PCR tests often miss early COVID-19 infections and results can be positive after the infection has resolved,” Exline added. “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.”

Related Links:
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center 


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