Coronavirus: Newcastle breath test has to trial outside UK

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Design Engineer Saqib Ali, left, and Dr Sterghios Moschos look at a prototype of the breath collecting deviceImage source, Northumbria University
Image caption,
Dr Sterghios Moschos, right, said the test could be used to produce results in minutes

A scientist developing a test to diagnose coronavirus says he is not able to trial it in the UK.

Northumbria University associate professor Sterghios Moschos is leading research into a device to collect breath samples which could be tested in minutes.

If trials show it can detect the virus its results could be quicker and more reliable than current tests, he says.

The government agency responsible has been approached for comment.

Dr Moschos said UK infectious diseases units had "elected not to carry out testing" of his kit.

He accepted infection control processes were so stringent that even "the simple thing of 'Can you please breathe into this' might be a lot more complicated in practice than it might seem".

However, clinicians in Europe are prepared to test the kits and will receive them within the next week, he said.

Dr Moschos's device is less prone to contamination and false negative results, he said.

Current tests mostly use nose and throat swabs because chest samples are only available if the patient coughs up mucus.

However chest samples are far more reliable and, as a result, about 10% of current tests return a false negative result, Dr Moschos said.

Data in papers released by Chinese researchers "state in no uncertain terms that the swab method that is being used worldwide right now is not reliable", he said.

He believes his device would work better because breath has circulated in the chest.

If trials show coronavirus can be detected on breath, further research would show if the test is more reliable than those currently available.

Given the number of patients with coronavirus, this would not take more than a few weeks, Dr Moschos said.

But a deluge of cases might mean clinicians do not have the time and "people like me have an obligation to stay behind and away so that people are cared for", he said.

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