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A new COVID-19 breath test holds promise

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Two new Omicron sublineages found in South Africa

US, SOUTH AFRICA: COVID-19 infections might soon be flagged with a puff of exhaled breath, after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first breath-based COVID-19 test in the United States.

The emergency-use authorization of the InspectIR COVID-19 Breathalyzer is a meaningful milestone in the yearslong quest to develop more breath-based diagnostics, as well as innovative new tests for COVID-19, experts said. And it is likely to be the first of many similar breath-based COVID-19 tests, experts said.

“I think this is a really exciting development for the entire field of breath analysis,” said Cristina Davis, associate vice chancellor of Interdisciplinary Research and Strategic Initiatives at the University of California, Davis, who has been developing her own coronavirus test. “This is a huge step forward.” But breath tests still pose real-world challenges, and this particular device has several practical limitations, scientists said. The machine required to conduct the tests is large — about the size of a carry-on suitcase — and can be used only by trained operators supervised by health care professionals.

And many devices would be needed for wide-scale screening, given that each machine can process only about 20 samples an hour, according to InspectIR Systems, a small, five-person company based in Frisco, Texas.

It could take 10 to 12 weeks for the first devices to hit the market, John Redmond, co-founder of InspectIR Systems, said Friday. The company said it planned to produce about 100 devices a week, according to the FDA, but it was not immediately clear when production would reach that level.

The device’s pricing has not yet been finalized, but the co-founders said Friday they hope to be able to offer licenses or subscriptions that translate to a cost of about US$10 to US$12 per test.

Meanwhile,South Africa’s National Department of Health confirmed that Omicron sublineages BA.4 and BA.5 exist in the country.

“There are 5 sub-variants of Omicron being observed around the world. We are watching two — BA.4 and BA.5,” the Department’s spokesperson Foster Mohale told Xinhua. Professor Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu-Natal also talked about the new subvariants but said no cause for concern.

“New Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 detected in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, and the UK. Early indications that these new sublineages are increasing as a share of genomically confirmed cases in SA. No cause for alarm as no major spike in cases, admissions or deaths in SA,” he tweeted.



Monday, April 18, 2022 – 01:00

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