Covid-Air: Super-fast Covid test using exhaled air trialled in Lyon

The machine detects chemical traces of Covid in your breath, and is eventually expected to be rolled out in places that need fast mass testing, such as airports and concert halls

5 May 2021
A woman breathes into the Covid-Air machine. Covid-Air: Super-fast Covid test using exhaled air trialled in Lyon

The new test works like an alcohol breathalyser test, in that the person breathes into a tube, and the machine analyses the exhaled air in less than a minute Pic: M / @mmarjoriemm / FranceInfo / Twitter

By Hannah Thompson

A new test for Covid-19 that needs nothing but exhaled air and gives results in less than a minute is being trialled in Lyon.

The testing machine (which is the size of a fridge) is named Covid-Air. Should it prove successful, it is envisaged to be used in spaces that need rapid and easy testing, such as airports.

It works like an alcohol breathalyser test, in that the person being tested breathes into a tube. The machine analyses the exhaled air in less than a minute, and gives a negative or positive Covid result.

Each human exhale contains several thousand molecules, produced largely by the body’s metabolic system, and the contents of the exhalation can give several clues to our state of health.

Christian George, research director at the CNRS and the Université Lyon 1, told FranceInfo: “With each exhale, we have a chemical print that appears. And in this composition, we can see the presence or absence of chemical traces of Covid, and offer a positive or negative diagnosis on the presence of the virus.”

Currently, Covid-Air has been set up in a vaccination and testing centre in Lyon, and is being used alongside PCR nasal swab tests.

People who attend for a PCR test at the centre are also invited to try Covid-Air.

So far, 3,000 people have taken part in the trial, which is set to continue until the end of May. If the trial is declared a success, the creators hope to start rolling out Covid-Air models across the country, in places that require fast Covid testing results, such as airports and concert halls.

The project is a collaboration by Les Hospices Civils de Lyon (HCL), in partnership with national scientific research centre the CNRS and the Université Lyon 1; and financially supported by Deep Tech innovation company Pulsalys, and research institute Ircelyon.

The trial will also evaluate the machine’s ability to test for other conditions, such as flu, Legionnaires' disease, and even cancer.

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