It is urgently needed to quickly distinguish COVID-19 from other respiratory diseases, including influenza, write researchers from Scotland and Germany in the journal “EClinicalMedicine”, published by “The Lancet”. The scientists have been investigating a possible breath test for the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and are now reporting promising results.
It has been known for quite some time that some diseases can have characteristic odors. Therefore, the air we breathe can also contribute to the diagnosis of certain diseases – possibly also to the detection of COVID-19, as researchers have now discovered.
As the Deutsches Ärzteblatt explains on its website, infection of the lungs with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 leads to the formation of volatile organic compounds (VOC), the analysis of which in a breath sample could be used to diagnose the disease.
COVID-19 detection with “electronic noses
Breathing air is currently hardly used for diagnostics, although some diseases can be easily recognized by their smell. Dogs in particular have this special gift: “Dogs have a very good nose and can, for example, smell hypoglycaemia in a patient before the person affected feels it himself. Also with lung cancer illnesses there are for this already positive research results , explained Priv. Dr. Bernhard Schaaf, Director of the Clinic for Infectiology and Pneumology at the Lung Center of the Klinikum Dortmund, in an earlier announcement.
However, since it takes a long time to train dogs for a specific disease, researchers are using “electronic dog noses”. Research teams from the University of Edinburgh (Great Britain) and the Klinikum Dortmund have tested such devices on patients with COVID-19. The measuring instrument (from a Dortmund manufacturer) couples gas chromatography with ion mobility spectrometry (GC-IMS). The two teams compared breath analyses of COVID-19 patients with those of patients with other respiratory diseases such as asthma or COPD or bacterial or viral respiratory infections.
For the examination, the patients have to blow into a plastic tube from which the air is taken with a syringe and then injected into the device. The results are available after a short time, special reagents are not necessary for this method. Therefore, the test could be performed as a quick test on the spot. Since no aerosols are released during the sampling, no increased safety precautions would be necessary. The results of the two teams are promising.
“These two studies independently show that patients with COVID-19 can be quickly distinguished from patients with other diseases on first contact with the health care system,” the researchers write. “The development and validation of this approach may enable a rapid diagnosis of COVID-19 in the coming endemic flu seasons.” (ad)
With an accuracy of 80 percent and 81.5 percent respectively, the scientists succeeded in identifying the COVID-19 patients – the diagnosis was confirmed by a smear test in each case. A differentiation between COVID-19 and the other diseases was shown in the VOCs mainly by different concentrations of ethanol, octanal, acetone, acetone/butanone mixed cluster and methanol.
Corona disease: breath test for COVID-19
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