COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to testing for COVID, uncomfortable nasal swabs may eventually become a thing of the past due to a new technology being developed at Ohio State University.

Wexner Medical Center researchers have created a breath test that appears to be highly accurate at rapidly screening patients for COVID-19.

The research team has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization of the Breathalyzer technology. Results from an initial study in patients were published Thursday in the medical journal PLOS ONE.

While the “gold standard” for diagnosing COVID is a PCR test that takes sometimes days to process in a lab, the breath test was able to detect the virus in patients within seconds, Dr. Matthew Exline, lead researcher and director of critical care at the medical center said in a news release.

Researchers were able to identify COVID in patients because the virus produces a distinct “breath print” due to its interaction with oxygen, nitric oxide and ammonia in a person’s body, according to the medical center.

Ohio State’s study followed 46 patients in the intensive care unit with acute respiratory failure that required mechanical ventilation. Half of the patients had an active COVID-19 infection and the remaining half didn’t have COVID-19.


The test took about 15 seconds to identify the virus and has so far shown to be accurate 88% of the time, according to the medical center.

The first-of-its-kind device to identify the virus was developed by Pelagia-Irene Gouma, researcher and professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Ohio State.

“This novel Breathalyzer technology uses nanosensors to identify and measure specific biomarkers in the breath,” Gouma said. “This is the first study to demonstrate the use of a nanosensor Breathalyzer system to detect a viral infection from exhaled breath prints.”

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