Coronavirus: Dubai trials breath test to detect Covid-19

Less invasive testing method can detect virus within one minute

A test that can detect if an individual has Covid-19 using a breath sample is being trialled in Dubai as a potential, faster alternative to the more uncomfortable nasal swab PCR.

The rapid test will be trialled on 2,500 patients at Nadd Al Hamar primary health care centre with the aim of assessing the its accuracy.

The device works by having a patient exhale into a disposable one-way valve mouthpiece. It then measures and analyses volatile organic compounds (VOCs) biomarkers - indications if the immune system is fighting a specific disease - in the sample and gives results within one minute.

The joint clinical trial is being carried out by Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dubai Health Authority and Breathonix, the company that developed the test.

Breathonix, a spin-off company from the National University of Singapore, previously conducted a pilot study involving 180 patients in Singapore and found the test had a sensitivity of 93 per cent and specificity of 95 per cent.

Dr Hussain Al Samt, director of Pathology and Genetics at DHA, said that, if found to be accurate enough, the test could "drastically improve diagnostics and care for Covid-19 patients".

Describing the technology as "very promising", he said the rapid diagnosis could be a "game-changer in the global fight against the virus".

The test is significantly faster that the current available methods, such as the PCR, which can take up to 48 hours to process in local labs. If approved, the breath test would bring increased efficiency to mass screening in highly-populated areas. A faster result will help authorities quickly isolate positive cases before the virus can spread to others.

Du Fang, co-founder and chief operating officer of Breathonix, said the breath test was more convenient than other types.

“The breath test is non-invasive and is unlikely to cause any discomfort, as the person is only required to breathe out normally into the device. It is also quick and easy to train people on how to carry out the test, so it can be easily rolled out to testing sites,” said Mr Du.

The tests were imported to Dubai onboard Emirates cargo flights.

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