Singapore develops rapid COVID-19 breath test, no nose jab required

A man undergoes a breath test in a promotional video for a new COVID-19 breathalyzer. Photo: Breathonix Pte Ltd
A man undergoes a breath test in a promotional video for a new COVID-19 breathalyzer. Photo: Breathonix Pte Ltd

Singapore’s medical experts have invented a new kind of COVID test that doesn’t stuff a long line up your nose.

After close to a year of research, academics at the National University of Singapore have devised a breathalyzer that can detect COVID-19 in under a minute. It is currently in talks for trial at Tuas Checkpoint on incoming travelers on top of compulsory swab tests.

The BreFence Go COVID-19 Breath Test System does not require trained medical personnel to administer and simply involves blowing into a disposable, one-way valve connected to the breath sampler. The breath is then measured by a spectrometer and analyzed by software before the results are generated.

“Our breath test is non-invasive. Users only need to breathe out normally into the disposable mouthpiece provided, so there will not be any discomfort. Cross-contamination is unlikely as the disposable mouthpiece has a one-way valve and a saliva trap to prevent inhalation or saliva from entering the machine,” Jia Zhunan, NUS grad and CEO of the manufacturer, said in a statement.

The total processing time from taking the sample to generating results is less than a minute.

According to its website, the test has an “accuracy of 85.7% sensitivity.”  

The system detects volatile organic compounds produced by biochemical reactions in human cells. The compounds in those who are ill vary from those of the uninfected, which are used as markers to detect the virus.

Since June, the test has undergone clinical trials at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, Changi Airport, and Dubai. It may soon be piloted at other organizations locally and overseas. 

The test was developed by Breathonix Pte Ltd, which was founded by Zhunan with NUS grads Du Fang and Wayne Wee Shi Jie, along with academic adviser T. Venky Venkatesan. 

Singapore continues to record double digit daily infections, with 24 locally transmitted cases yesterday, totaling 61,860 infections and 32 deaths since January 2020. The largest cluster at Changi Airport has spread to more than 100 people.

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