Dutch to roll out rapid breath tests for COVID-19

AMSTERDAM, Feb 3 (Reuters) - The Netherlands is to introduce rapid COVID-19 breath tests to sites across the country to speed up the testing process and make it less intrusive.

Testing facilities in Amsterdam were this week the first to start using the SpiroNose, a machine which requires a person to breathe into it to indicate a possible coronavirus infection within a minute.

After months of trials, Dutch health authorities found the SpiroNose to be reliable in the case of negative test results, infectious disease expert Mariken van der Lubben of Amsterdam's municipal health services told Reuters.

"If you are negatively tested, then it's a very reliable outcome and you can go," Van der Lubben said.

A positive test needed to be followed by a regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to establish whether the detected infection was caused by a coronavirus.

The Dutch health service has ordered around 1,800 machines with plans to introduce them in test facilities across the country in coming months.

"It's a promising technology, especially because of the speed, you can get a result within a minute," Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst said.

"That's a game changer, if you can make a rapid diagnosis or rule out an infection within a minute." But he added: "We don't have enough results yet to unequivocally say this is the future, this is the way to go."

Van Ranst said lengthy test periods comparing the breath test with the PCR test would be necessary to see whether the test could also make the distinction between different types of viruses.

Dutch health tech company Breathomix, which originally developed the machine to detect asthma and lung cancer, said it had collected enough data to reliably spot a possible coronavirus infection.

"In the past couple of months we have measured thousands of patients with corona and people who don't have corona, so we know what is the average breath profile of corona and people without corona," Breathomix executive Rianne de Vries said.

Breathomix is investigating options to use the SpiroNose in companies or schools, De Vries said, to help them create a safe environment.

But the machine will not offer a direct solution for reopening venues to large audiences, she said, as every test takes 2-3 minutes from start to finish. The machine is also sensitive to alcohol, smoke and other distracting factors in a person's breath.

Reporting by Esther Verkaik; Writing by Bart Meijer; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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