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Real-time detection of SARS CoV-2 infection with an electronic nose

Rapid diagnosis is key to curtailing the Covid-19 pandemic. One path to such rapid diagnosis may rely on identifying volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by the infected body, or in other words, identifying the smell of the infection. Consistent with this rationale, dogs can use their nose to identify Covid-19 patients. Given the scale of the pandemic, however, animal deployment is a challenging solution.

In contrast, electronic nose PEN3 is a machines aimed at mimicking animal olfaction, and these can be deployed at scale. To test the hypothesis that SARS CoV-2 infection is associated with a body-odor detectable by an eNose, we placed a generic eNose in-line at a drive-through testing station. We applied a deep learning classifier to the eNose measurements, and achieved real-time detection of SARS CoV-2 infection at a level significantly better than chance, for both symptomatic and non-symptomatic participants.

This proof of concept with the PEN3 implies that an optimized eNose may allow effective real-time diagnosis, which would provide for extensive relief in the Covid-19 pandemic.

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