New COVID-19 Breathalyzer a Potential New Way to Self-Test for Viruses

by Michael Franco
CES sign at Consumer Electronics Show 2023

If you've ever had to take a nasal-swab test for COVID-19, you know that the experience — while sometimes necessary — certainly isn't pleasant. A new gadget by Baltimore-based Opteev Technologies aims to change that experience by making the testing process as easy as blowing through a tube.

The device, known as ViraWarn, has already been named a 2023 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Digital Healthcare category by a panel of judges working for next year's CES convention (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show). These awards shine a spotlight on "outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products," according to CES.

To operate the device, users will simply blow twice into a cartridge attached to a handheld plastic box (the entire device looks to be about the size of an asthma inhaler). Within 40 seconds, a light on top of the box will illuminate red for positive and green for negative. ViraWarn will be able to test for all coronaviruses, including SARS-Cov-2 (which causes COVID-19), as well as other respiratory viruses, including RSV, influenza and rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. The device is currently in clinical trials, and the company has submitted a pre-EUA (emergency use application) to the FDA for approval.

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To spot viruses, ViraWarn uses an electrical sensing system. When a user breathes into the cartridge, a first-line carbon filter blocks larger bacterial particles. Past this filter, the remaining particles are captured by a silk-based sensor that conducts electricity. Because viruses have electrical charges, after the sensor relays the information it gathers regarding the particles attached to it, a built-in artificial intelligence processor can determine whether the change in conductivity on the sensor equates to the presence of viral particles. If so, it turns the LED light on top green. If not, it glows red. The stream of air that comes out the other side of the device passes through a HEPA filter, which ensures that it is free from any viral particles so that if you are sick, you're not spraying your germs around the room.

Currently, ViraWarn can only detect the presence of viral particles. It can't actually distinguish between different types of viruses. So if you blow into the cartridge and get a positive result (the green light), all you'll know is that you do indeed have some kind of virus. Further testing will be necessary to determine which kind of virus you have, so the dreaded nasal swab could still be around the corner for users. Still, the device can serve as a very convenient early-warning system. Should it confirm a negative result, it can spare users from further testing. It will also be a handy way to conduct quick self-tests before visiting at-risk populations such as nursing homes and can even be used to reduce the number of sick workers entering the workplace and spreading illness to others.

According to Opteev, cartridges for ViraWarn will be affordable and can each be used daily for up to two weeks before needing to be replaced. At this time, the company has not shared details regarding the eventual cost of the device or when it might become available to the public.

This is part of our CES 2023 coverage. Follow along here and on our social media channels:

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