Currently, patients suspected of being infected with the novel coronavirus must wait 24-48 hours before they know their diagnosis. As more and more people around the world are being diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, finding a faster way of detecting the infection will contribute to the prevention of the impending pandemic. A team at Northumbria University in Newcastle has developed a new test that can detect the virus by analysing biomarkers present in the air being exhaled. The new technology might soon be used in airports and hospitals.

In the United Kingdom, cheek swabs are taken from suspected virus patients and then sent to the Public Health England lab for testing. After a 24 to 48 hour wait, the test results are sent back to the hospital. With an increased number of suspected patients, the pressure on the labs has led to an increased wait time for the diagnosis.

Instead of having to wait days for the results, the team from Northumbria University has created a device that can diagnose patients within minutes. Individuals will be tested by breathing into a device like a breathalyser. The device then spots biomarkers which are biological information like DNA, RNA, fat molecules, and protein.

The biomarkers indicate diseases in the lungs as well as other body parts. Breath sampling technology has not been reliable before. The test developed by the Northumbria University team, however, has proven to be highly accurate.

Many airports around the world are already using temperature checking devices to screen arriving passengers. By using both devices, identifying COVID-19 patients at airports will become much easier.

Apart from diagnosing patients with the COVID-19 virus, the new technology has multiple other uses. Analyzing biomarkers can help doctors diagnose lung diseases, diabetes, cancers, liver diseases, and problems in the brain. An associate professor at the Northumbria University, Sterghios Moschos, stated that the purpose of the new device was to offer a bloodless diagnostic method, the Daily Mail reported.

Temperature tests and asking travellers to report illness have failed to prevent viral transmission. The new diagnostic tool might soon offer beneficial aid to the world during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

South Korea CODIV-19
South Koreans who suspect they have symptoms of the deadly coronavirus can now get tested at a 'drive-thru' centre Photo: AFPTV / Yelim LEE