Handheld device can detect presence of coronavirus in the air in real time

Researchers at Yale University in the United States have developed a handheld device that can identify the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, in real time, in the air. Nicknamed the Fresh Air Clip, the equipment is a passive sampler and can be an ally in the fight against covid-19 for workers at high risk of exposure.

Published in scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the North American study demonstrated that the device can help in the assessment of personal risk to SARS-CoV-2. To do this, the equipment continuously absorbs potentially virus-laden aerosols onto a polydimethylsiloxane surface.

Device must identify the presence of the covid-19 virus in the air (Image: Reproduction/Angel et al., 2022/Environmental Science & Technology Letters)

Identifying contaminated environments

It is worth explaining that covid-19 is transmitted mainly by inhaling virus-laden aerosols or respiratory droplets that infected individuals expel when coughing, sneezing, talking or breathing. In other words, contaminated air is a key element in the disease transmission process.

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From this understanding, scientists sought ways to identify the presence of the coronavirus in indoor environments, in a simplified way. According to the team, the available equipment of this type is usually large, expensive, fixed and requires the use of electricity.

Tests with the device

During the study, scientists at Yale University tested the effectiveness of the device in a rotating drum, where aerosols contaminated by a virus similar in its properties to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus existed. It was possible to detect the presence of the infectious agent in the equipment, according to the authors.

Then the researchers tested the invention on 62 volunteers. Participants were at high risk of exposure and wore the equipment for five days. The analyzes detected the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in five of the devices: four were used by restaurant workers and one by a shelter worker. Interestingly, the highest viral loads were associated with restaurant staff.

So far, there is no forecast when the device will reach the market, but it could be a valuable tool to reliably estimate the concentrations of viruses in the air. In this sense, it can be another layer of protection against covid-19, in addition to masks, adequate ventilation of environments and social distance.

Source: Environmental Science & Technology Letters

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