• Detecting Respiratory Disease from COVID-19 Using Gas Chromatography


Detecting Respiratory Disease from COVID-19 Using Gas Chromatography

Jul 01 2020

COVID-19 was first identified late in 2019 in patients in China. Doctors identified a cluster of pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The disease COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) was found to be caused by a type of virus known as SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome corona virus 2.

COVID-19 causes many different health outcomes. Some positive antibody tests reveal some people have had COVID-19 with no symptoms – while sadly, other people have died from complications due to COVID-19. Acute respiratory distress syndrome – known as ARDS – is one of the potentially fatal outcomes from having COVID-19. But recent work carried out by the United States Air Force Research Laboratory scientists and researchers at the University of Michigan using gas chromatography could help doctors to improve the prognosis for ARDS patients.

Damage to the lungs – COVID-19 can be a killer

COVID-19 can cause several lung complications including pneumonia and ARDS. Pneumonia is when the lungs fill with fluid and become inflamed. The air sacs in the lungs fill with the fluid and this stops them filling with oxygen. This leads to breathing difficulties that in some cases mean a patient must go on a ventilator.

As pneumonia progresses, more of the air sacs of the lungs become filled with fluid. As the body continues to fight the infection, the body sends immune cells to the lungs to help fight the infection. This can cause an inflammatory reaction in the lungs leading to fluid leaking from the small blood vessels in the lungs. This can fill up the air sacs or alveoli making it difficult for the lungs to transfer oxygen into the bloodstream. At this stage, the patient needs a ventilator to help circulate oxygen through the body. Patients who develop ARDS can take a long time to recover and are more likely to die due to the infection.

Chromatography helps check for ARDS markers

But help it at hand for doctors courtesy of the US Air Force, the University of Michigan and gas chromatography. Researchers have made modifications to an existing gas analysis system that is based on gas chromatography. Gas chromatography is commonly used to detect and analyse volatile compounds – a topic discussed in the article, Measurement of Pesticides in Cannabis sativa and Hemp Matrices Using a Gas Chromatograph-Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer. The system was originally designed to detect and identify explosives, toxins, and pollutants – but it was quickly realized that the equipment could be modified from its environmental uses to health monitoring of COVID-19 patients.

The device is a little like a breathalyser that can analyse the breath and detect the chemical signature of ARDS in its very early stages. The device gives very quick results and can identify ARDS up to 24 hours before current diagnostic techniques, allowing patients to be put on ventilators at an earlier stage helping to prevent lung damage.

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