DUBLIN — Mention of a breathalyzer typically evokes images of a bedraggled five o’clock shadow peering bloodshot-eyed through a driver’s window after being pulled over by police.
That could change if a new test for the novel coronavirus gets a second wind after successful first-round trials.
According to a Tuesday statement by the National University of Singapore (NUS), the device, which resembles a drink-driving breathalyzer, generates a result in around 60 seconds.
The outcomes, which NUS reports as 90 per cent accurate among the 180 people tested, “are generated in real-time” by analysis of “Volatile Organic Compounds” in a person’s breath.
Jia Zhunan, doctor and chief executive officer of NUS spin-off company Breathonix, said the test is “is easy to administer,” needing neither trained staff nor laboratory processing.
Fast turnarounds make the breathalyzer “an attractive solution for mass screening, especially in areas with high human traffic,” according to Jia, who is lining up final trials to “further improve the accuracy of the technology.”
According to NUS, the virus detection “gold standard” is a swab test, which entails “diagnosis using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests” and “can take a few hours.”
The accuracy of PCR testing has been questioned in recent weeks as officially reported case numbers surge again across Europe.
Concerns have been raised about both false positives and false negatives, as well as variable turnaround times that inhibit fast contact-tracing.
The NUS breath test is the second pandemic-related innovation to come out of Singapore in recent weeks. A team of doctors and engineers last month launched a robot swabber that could see vulnerable testing medics taken out of harm’s way.Show