The NHS is trialling a breath test that could detect the coronavirus in just 10 minutes. The device uses an electronic nose to capture chemicals floating in a person’s breath, and compares them to the biomarkers of the virus.
A trial has begun at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, which aims to determine whether nanotechnology biomarker tagging can be used to detect Covid-19 infection.
NHS doctors are testing out the machine, which could give results in as little as 10 minutes, its creators say. The device works by the analysing the chemicals in the air someone breathes out after they blow into a mouthpiece for a minute, and is already used for other illnesses. Manufacturers of the kit say it could be a 'game-changer' because it is so much faster than a swab test, but it is too early in trials to know how accurate it is.
Currently, Britons suspected of having Covid-19 must wait up to 48 hours to get the results of their test back because it has to be processed in a laboratory. Number 10 is desperate to approve rapid tests as it scales up testing ahead of winter to try and keep on top of coronavirus when millions develop Covid-like symptoms as normal coughs, colds and flu come back in the colder weather.
And last week a top government adviser claimed pregnancy-style tests were set to be approved imminently, being sold on Boots and Amazon for just £5. Matt Hancock is planning an astonishing rise in the number of Covid-19 tests carried out to get the economy back on track. The Health Secretary is said to be preparing what has been dubbed 'Operation Moon Shot', an ambition to test four million people each day.
ANCON Medical — a diagnostics firm based in Canterbury — is behind the Covid-19 breath test. The company has already made a breathalyser that detects lung cancer in as little as six minutes by looking for chemicals released by tumours in the airways. Experts believe the technology could work the same way for Covid-19, if they can prove that infected patients exhale tell-tale substances.
The mixture of chemicals and substances people breathe out changes according to their diet and health, and laboratory computers are able to pick up on these changes when presented with breath samples. The ANCON scientists hope they will be able to accurately recognise a signature found only in Covid-19 patients and to pick up on it immediately when people take the test.