Nobody likes getting the flu. At best it’s a miserable experience that leaves you feeling gross and weak; at worst, it can be downright deadly. Unfortunately, besides being decidedly unpleasant, the flu is a wily virus. With multiple strains and a variety of symptoms, it can be hard to track until it’s too late. That’s when scientists are stepping in, determined to catch the flu in its earliest stages.
Scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington have devised a device that can identify the flu virus through breath. Perena Gouma and her team invented a hand-held piece of equipment that can determine if you’re carrying the flu simply by breathing into it.
The concept is based on the breathalyzer used to determine alcohol levels in a person’s body. But from there things get a lot more interesting. The flu breathalyzer is designed to detect gases emitted by the body that are different than those deteteced by its alcohol-specific inspiration. From the gases, the device identifies known biomarkers associate with the flu. The breathalyzer is capable of picking up on these biomarkers in the very early stages of the illness — even before symptoms have made themselves known. Once the flu is confirmed, treatment can begin.
This is more than just an interesting concept; Gouma’s invention could very well save lives. From cutting down on long lines at the pharmacy to providing personal care at home for individuals, this technology could help drastically reduce the number of people who are laid up by the flu every year.
And this just the beginning; by adjusting the nanotechnology that makes up the device, scientists can detect and combat all manner of diseases. Everything from asthma to ebola has distinct biomarkers — and now we potentially have a way to identify them before they become deadly.
Perhaps most significantly, this technology is not prohibitively expensive. Mass production and commercialization is a viable option that the scientists are currently exploring. Now with a single breath, scientists may soon be able to diagnose all manner of diseases — and give patients the tools to fight back.