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Rapid Covid breath test devices developed in Finland

The breath test was developed in Finland. 

A few puffs into a handheld device, where nanosensors analyse your breath. Data is sent via a mobile app to a cloud-based service that within a few seconds says whether or not the testee has Covid-19.

That's the plan for a Tampere firm that is developing a Covid-19 breathalyser device.

The result is based on the biomarkers that indicate changes in the body when people are infected with Covid. When people breathe out, they leave the lungs and the body, allowing breathalysers to identify Covid cases.

Levels are sent to the cloud-based service, which compares them to those found in Covid patients and allows an initial diagnosis to be made.

"It takes an average of 15 seconds to give a sample, and the analysis takes around three seconds, so we can genuinely talk about real time assessment and diagnosis," said Pekka Rissanen of the Tampere firm Deep Sensing Algorithms. "Each cycle is around two minutes so the next person can come after two minutes to breathe into the device."

The firm has already had enquiries about the device, which has been tested in field trials in Holland. According to the results the device will get certified.

"We should get the whole thing done in February and after that the device has a medical certificate and can begin commercial rollout," says Rissanen.

The firm estimates it can start production in February by making some 500 devices a week, raising that quickly to meet demand.

Some 40 prototypes have already been sent to potential customers around the world. The company says it has sales arrangements in place for some 130 countries.

"We see a great need for devices like this, for technology like this, and we can partly meet that demand with this product," said Rissanen.

Quick tests useful for airports

As a breath test gives a result quite quickly, it is suitable for border guards or airports. At the time of writing, Rissanen was cautious about making grand claims about the accuracy of the device, but he was quietly confident.

"Now I have to be careful what I say, because this is a very regulated sector," said Rissanen. "At the stage where we publish accuracy percentages, they will be available on our website. At this stage I can say that the accuracy is sufficient."

Demand has come from countries dependent on tourism, as well as Finnish Lapland.

"Yes we've had lots of queries from the Lapland travel industry," said Rissanen. "Helsinki Airport is the kind of place that has followed our work closely and other border crossings are surely the first places in Finland where they'd like to use this."

Rissanen says the devices can also be used to guarantee someone's health when they don't display symptoms, rather than diagnosing someone who is sick.

In that way 'bubbles' can be created where Covid risk is much lower.

The technology is not new either, as currently some 60 different illnesses can be diagnosed via breath tests. Rissanen says that in time, the company may be able to diagnose those as well.