Scientists have developed a breathalyser that can detect the flu virus, it was revealed today.
The patient - or malingering partner - simply breathes into the hand-held monitor which uses semiconductor sensors like those in a household carbon monoxide detector.
But in the new device the sensors identify biomarkers linked to the virus and indicate if the sufferer has flu or just wants a ‘duvet day.’
The breathalyser, similar to the machines used by cops for roadside alcohol tests, was developed by Professor Perena Gouma, from the Materials Science and Engineering Department at The University of Texas.
Eventually it is hoped the machine will be available in high street chemists so people can be diagnosed earlier and take advantage of medicine used to treat the flu in its earliest stages.
It could also help prevent flu epidemics from spreading, protecting both individuals as well as the public health.
But it could also be adapted to diagnose other diseases, including ebola, according to the study published in the journal Sensors.
Prof Gouma and her team used existing research to work out the quantities of known biomarkers present in a person’s breath when afflicted with a particular disease, then applied that knowledge to find a combination of sensors for those biomarkers that is accurate for detecting the flu.
For example, people who suffer from asthma have increased nitric oxide concentration in their breath, and acetone is a known biomarker for diabetes and metabolic processes.
When combined with a nitric oxide and an ammonia sensor, Gouma found that the breath monitor may detect the flu virus, possibly as well as tests done in a doctor’s office.
Prof Gouma, who is also the lead scientist in the University’s Institute for Predictive Performance Measurement said: “I think that technology like this is going to revolutionise personalised diagnostics.
“This will allow people to be proactive and catch illnesses early, and the technology can easily be used to detect other diseases, such as Ebola virus disease, simply by changing the sensors.
“Before we applied nanotechnology to create this device, the only way to detect biomarkers in a person’s breath was through very expensive, highly-technical equipment in a lab, operated by skilled personnel.
“Now, this technology could be used by ordinary people to quickly and accurately diagnose illness.”
Prof Stathis Meletis, chair of the Materials Science and Engineering Department, said: “Dr. Gouma’s development of a portable, single-exhale device that can be used to detect diseases has implications far beyond the laboratory.
“This shows the impact of nanotechnology on our everyday lives, and has potential for applications related to security and other important areas as well.