Israeli Innovation

Israel invents one-minute coronavirus breath test

The invention of an instant COVID-19 breathalyser could have enormous implications for air travel, with borders able to be re-opened and passengers mandatorily tested before flying

AN Israeli-designed one-minute breath test to tell whether someone has coronavirus could soon be installed at hundreds of global entry points if it gets approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

The clever contraption, which uses frequency to detect the deadly SARS-CoV-2, was designed by a team based at an Israeli university and has a success rate of more than 90 percent in trials to-date.

Current tests for the new coronavirus use throat or nose swabs and look for particles but the team led by Professor Gabby Sarusi at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev thought outside the box in terms of detection.

Professor Gabby Sarusi from Ben-Gurion University shows off the instant coronavirus breathalyser.

“We asked ourselves, since this virus is just like a nano-particle or a quantum dot with a diameter between 100nm to 140nm in terms of its size and electrical properties, can we detect it using methods from the worlds of physics, photonics and electrical engineering?

“We discovered that the answer is yes, this virus resonates in the THz frequency, and spectroscopy in these frequencies reveals it promptly.”

Sarusi’s team has been working with Israel’s Defence Ministry to validate the hand-held device which contains a chip with densely packed sensors to capture tiny particles from the breath, including any viruses.

The chip is then read through a THz spectroscopy, which takes about 20 seconds. Scientists look for the tell-tale changes in resonance in the THz spectral range caused by the coronavirus. Within a minute they can tell if someone is carrying the virus, even though they may be completely without symptoms.

Sarusi said the idea was for these breathalysers to be installed throughout the country at places such as at ports, workplaces and cruise ships, with each device processing breath from about 4,000 people every day.

The next steps are to conclude the validation process then get Food and Drug Administration approval, for which there is a COVID-19 fast-tracking system in-place, meaning that the tests could be seen in public as soon as September.

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