Gas Chromatography

  • Can COVID-19 Be Detected with a Breath Test? - Chromatography Investigates

Can COVID-19 Be Detected with a Breath Test? - Chromatography Investigates

Sep 09 2020 Read 1201 Times

From the outset, the importance of testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been emphasised by doctors, scientists, and health organizations. Evidence from around the globe would suggest that those countries that tested for the virus and acted on that data have fared the best with fewer deaths and infection rates.

With no vaccine, testing is the only method we have to determine how best to use the limited health resources. But test results take around 24 hours to process, a significant reduction from the initial stages of the pandemic. They are also unpleasant and invasive to perform. But researchers in Edinburgh and Dortmund might have found a much simpler and quicker method that has chromatography at its heart – and it doesn’t need a cotton bud pushed down your throat or up your nose.

Your breath contains the clues to your health

Breath analysis has been viewed as a possible diagnostic tool for many years. The potential benefits of a simple to administer and non-invasive test to determine a patient’s ailments could be viewed as a panacea for medical professionals. We already use breath analysis to determine whether a person has a drink or taken drugs whilst driving. The extension of its use as a tool for medical professionals is under investigation.

The need to rapidly distinguish Covid-19 from other respiratory conditions is one area where breath analysis could be useful. Previous studies have identified breath changes that allowed the differentiation between viral and bacterial infections that was based on breath aldehydes. Researchers in Edinburgh and Dortmund assessed the feasibility of using breath analysis to distinguish Covid-19 from other respiratory conditions.

Chromatography spots the aldehydes of Covid-19

The independent teams recruited adult patients who presented at hospital with Covid-19 symptoms. The participants gave a breath sample and the volatile organic compounds in the sample were analysed using gas chromatography with ion mobility spectrometry. Of course, chromatography is frequently used to analyse volatile compounds as discussed in the article, Analysis and Identification of Mezcal and Tequila Aromas by Ambient Ionisation MS, GC-MS, and GCxGC-MS.

The participants also had the standard oral/nasal swab test to identify Covid-19 infection. The teams report that following statistical analysis they could identify potential Covid-19 breath markers. They identified aldehydes (ethanal, octanal), ketones (acetone and butanone) and methanol that were different in Covid-19 patients compared to other conditions including asthma and COPD. The authors of a paper state: These two studies independently indicate that patients with Covid-19 can be rapidly distinguished from patients with other conditions at first healthcare contact.

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