The UK scientists led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and biotech company Robo Scientific Ltd with Durham University have tested a 'COVID alarm' that sniffs Covid.
Studies shows that COVID-19 infection has a distinct smell, resulting from changes in the volatile organic compounds (VOC) which make up the body odour – generating an odour 'fingerprint' that the sensors can detect. The study tested devices with organic semiconducting (OSC) sensors.
According to scientists, this technology could be used as a rapid, non-invasive test with incredible accuracy. If these devices are successfully developed for use in public places, they also could protect people against future disease outbreaks, with capability to develop sensor arrays to detect other diseases within a number of weeks.
Over two days of testing the samples, the researchers found the sensors were able to distinguish between infected and uninfected samples as COVID-19 has a distinct odour. On the first day of testing they achieved an average of 98 per cent specificity (meaning a low risk of false positive results) and an average of 99 per cent sensitivity (meaning a low risk of false negative results).
On the second day of testing the devices achieved 100 per cent sensitivity and specificity which is more accurate than any other diagnostic test available.
The device, developed by Cambridgeshire-based start-up Robo Scientific’s is a portable handheld device and a room-based device. These devices could be used in place of PCR and LFT testing as a faster method to accurately detect Covid.
The device could also screen areas such as classrooms or aircraft cabins to detect if an infected individual is in the room, with air analysis results within an estimated 30 minutes.
It would therefore not be designed to replace PCR [Polymerase chain reaction] or LFT [Lateral Flow Test] testing, but as alternative to save time, money.
These devices were previously used in chicken houses to detect disease in flocks of up to 50,000 chickens.