One-minute COVID-19 breath test authorized in Singapore

It’s as easy to use as a breathalyzer.
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Singaporean health authorities have provisionally authorized a COVID-19 breath test that delivers accurate results in just one minute.

Why it matters: While vaccines are helping slow the spread of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of new cases are still being reported every day — and the pandemic might not end for years.

During that time, we’re going to need to remain vigilant, testing people often to stay ahead of any potential outbreaks. A breath-based test that delivers fast results will be far easier to deploy on a massive scale than tests that rely on blood draws or lab analysis.

How it works: When you breathe out, you exhale molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). More than 3,000 different VOCs have been found in human breath, and the levels of the molecules can indicate if a person is suffering from certain health problems.

COVID-19 is one of the diseases that produces a unique “VOC signature,” so Singapore-based company Breathonix developed a test that could identify that signature in a breath sample.

They call it the “BreFence Go COVID-19 Breath Test System.” To use it, a person exhales into a disposable mouthpiece. Their sample is fed to an instrument that measures VOC levels. An algorithm then analyzes the measurements, returning a diagnosis in less than a minute.

Looking ahead: During a clinical trial involving 180 people, the COVID-19 breath test demonstrated a sensitivity of 93% (meaning it caught 93% of people with COVID-19) and specificity of 95% (meaning it correctly identified 95% of people who were negative). Other, larger trials are currently ongoing.

Singapore is also working with Breathonix to deploy the test at a checkpoint along the Malaysian border. Any incoming travelers who test positive will then be given a swab-based rapid antigen test (which takes about 20-30 minutes) to confirm the result.

The test identifies COVID-19’s unique “breath signature.”

The big picture: Breathonix’s test is the first breath-analysis system to secure provisional authorisation from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority.

However, it’s not the world’s first authorized COVID-19 breath test — Indonesia has deployed its own test, and so has the Netherlands. Many other countries have such tests in development.

Still, with potentially years of pandemic life ahead of us, the development of any new COVID-19 test is good news — especially when it’s as fast, accurate, and easy to use as this one.

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