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USF researchers creating a COVID-19 'breathalyzer' that could detect the virus in a minute or less

The standard coronavirus test uses a swab to see if a person is infected, but this USF test hunts for the same small particles of the virus in your breath.

TAMPA, Fla — Imagine getting COVID-19 test results back in a minute or less.

"I think it's really a game-changer. If we can succeed in our development, and then create a product, it could be quite inexpensive, and quite accurate," Dr. Salvatore Morgera said. 

Finding a way to make a test for coronavirus less invasive and inexpensive is what drives Morgera and a research team of four at USF while they work on a new breakthrough way to test for the virus.

"You exhale a breath, you wait maybe 30 seconds, less than a minute, surely and you'll have an answer," Morgera said.

The device works similar to a breathalyzer.

"It's quite an accurate answer. Very specific and very sensitive. It is a breathalyzer for COVID-19. It is a breathalyzer for pathogens," Morgera said.

The standard test uses a swab to see if a person is infected, but this USF test hunts for the same small particles of the virus in your breath.

"What we do is we take a measurement of the exhale breath over time. In other words, during the process of acceleration, we capture the entire sample. That gives us an idea of how long the person has had COVID-19," Morgera said.

Right now the breathalyzer is being tested on students, faculty, and athletes at USF clinics. It's also a semi-finalist in the XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing competition.

The XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing aims to scale testing capabilities by 100-times past the current standard, the level of increase needed to more safely return to everyday activities.

While the coronavirus "breathalyzer" is still in the research phase, Morgera says once it's approved, it can be certified in 12-24 months.

"Breathalyzers actually, when they were first developed, they were expensive. But now they're very inexpensive and they're very small and accurate. That's the direction we hope to go," Morgera said.

This project is one of 14 awarded a COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant from USF. The college has invested more than $1 million into pandemic research.