10 Oct 2020

Breath test for Covid-19 in the pipeline

7:24 am on 10 October 2020

First published on Otago Daily Times

By John Lewis

A prototype breath analysing device which can instantly detect if a person has Covid-19 was on display in Dunedin yesterday, and could be a "game-changer" in how we live with the virus.

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It's hoped the device may be available in New Zealand as early as next month. Photo: Otago Daily Times

New Zealand distributor of the device, Boskein Science, was at the Jade Star Childcare and Learning Centre in Caversham yesterday, giving teaching staff an opportunity to try it.

Boskein technical adviser John Rawcliffe said the device was designed in Finland and had been used in the medical field for the early detection of a large number of medical cases in recent years.

It had now been developed to detect Covid-19, and it could bring an end to the unpleasant and time-consuming nasal swabs used to detect the virus at present.

The prototype was now going through a regulatory approval process, and it was hoped it would become widely available in New Zealand as early as next month, he said.

"It's a simple test in that you blow into the device - very much so like a [police alcohol] breathalyser.

"It analyses your breath for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

"Up to 30 compounds get analysed immediately, and within one minute, it can tell you whether you have Covid-19 or not. It is that simple.

"It's quite effective when you think about it, because it's testing your breath, and that's obviously where [Covid-19] is coming from and how we transmit it.

"It's to the point of contact."

Company developed breath analyser device to test for Covid-19

John Rawcliffe: "It's quite effective when you think about it, because it's testing your breath." Photo: Otago Daily Times

It could even detect if someone had Covid-19 before they started exhibiting symptoms, he said.

Rawcliffe said it was a possible game-changer.

"I hate to use the word game-changer - let's wait until it's approved - but this enables us to have more effective management of outbreaks, more effective controls to ensure there isn't an outbreak.

"If we are going to effectively manage the impact of this virus, we need to look at different tools and different technology to do that."

He said the machine could be used at the New Zealand border, or even at doorways to high community spread areas such as schools and workplaces, to test people before they entered.

Developed by Boskein Science

Photo: Otago Daily Times

"It would increase the level of confidence in control we have over this virus.

"It's a tool that can actually help us get back to normality."

This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times

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