Swine flu breath test could help identify infected patients

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A simple swine flu breath test is currently being developed to identify those already infected with the strain (Photo: Eneas on Flickr)

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A simple swine flu breath test is currently being developed with the aim of preventing H1N1 vaccination shortages by identifying those already infected with the strain. A recent study in Glasgow, Scotland discovered that over 50 percent of the local residents vaccinated during the 2009 swine flu pandemic had already been infected with the virus. This ultimately means that they were vaccinated unnecessarily and although this would not have caused any added harm, it did expose health practitioners to the infectious virus whilst also wasting already limited supplies of the vaccine.

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic, USA and Syft Technologies, New Zealand, are currently working on a fast and non-invasive breath test to measure biomolecules that develop in response to the H1N1 strain. The test is able to identify the levels of exhaled nitric oxide (NO) and isoprene, a biomolecule and compound previously associated with influenza and viral infections.

The concept of a breath test such as this one is nothing new. Simple breath tests have been in use for some time to help diagnose asthma, monitor transplant patients and for early detection of lung cancer, breast cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis. The current H1N1 breath test still requires further research and development but it is one step closer to finding a solution to preventing a severe global pandemic.

"This study adds to the growing evidence for the utility of breath analysis in medical diagnostics. More work still needs to be done, however, to identify the specific compounds that change in response to vaccination and to find the biologic link between those compounds and the host response to the vaccine or the actual disease," said Professor Raed Dweik, director of the Pulmonary Vascular Program at the Cleveland Clinic.

In 2009 the H1N1 virus affected over 200 countries and was responsible for the deaths of over 9000 victims worldwide.

The study was published this month in IOP Publishing's Journal of Breath Research.

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