Detecting COVID May Get a Lot Easier

Researchers develop a portable device that can detect it in a room's air in a few minutes
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2023 4:30 PM CDT
Detecting COVID May Get a Lot Easier
Illustration of the COVID virus.   (Getty /

Researchers have developed a portable gizmo the size of a microwave that can determine if COVID is present in the air of a room in five minutes, reports Science News. The new tool described in Nature is akin to an air-quality monitor and can detect the airborne virus in real time. It uses an air sampler and a finely-tuned sensor to identify the virus. One current drawback is that it's pretty loud, similar to a vacuum cleaner, which means it may not be practical to run constantly in, say, a classroom. Another is that it's expensive, with the device costing nearly $2,000 to build in a lab. But the prototype works, with Time reporting that it was 77% to 83% accurate in sniffing out COVID.

"If you are in a room with 100 people, you don't want to find out five days later whether you could be sick or not," says study co-author John Cirrito of Washington University in St. Louis in a press release. "The idea with this device is that you can know essentially in real time, or every 5 minutes, if there is a live virus in the air." One potential future use: Installing it in a building's air ducts to monitor entire floors, or perhaps an entire building if small enough. Researchers took a biosensor device previously developed to detect markers for Alzheimer's and tweaked it to recognize the coronavirus's distinctive spike proteins in the air. The same team is working on a device that might be able to similarly detect the flu, RSV, and other pathogens. (More coronavirus stories.)

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