Israel's COVID-19 breathalyzer test prototype promises results in 30 seconds

Israeli breathalyzer test
(Image credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Researchers at Israel's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have put a stake down in the race for an inexpensive, rapid COVID-19 test, reporting in the journal ACS Nano that their breath test has shown promising results in a trial of 140 people in Wuhan, China. The smartphone-sized prototype developed by Israeli and Chinese researchers requires only that users breathe into the breathalyzer-like device for 2 to 3 seconds.

"There are no accessories, it requires no lab processing, and it gives results within 30 seconds of blowing," Techion's Hossam Haick told The Times of Israel. The test uses an array of gold nanoparticles to identify a volatile organic compounds (VOC) particular to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Haick said the test is based on a cancer-detecting breathalyzer test he developed a few years ago; the cancer test is still being assessed by regulators, but he said "if everything goes well with further clinical studies, I hope it will be available and regulated within six months." He emphasized that unlike other rapid, noninvasive tests, this one has been peer-reviewed and published in a journal. Haick said he expects the tests will cost $2 to $3 apiece.

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In the trial, the breath test correctly identified COVID-19 in all 49 confirmed patients, and gave false positives for seven others. Public health officials are searching for an inexpensive test that doesn't require invasive, uncomfortable nasal swabs or the long processing time those swabs need in a lab.

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