Efficient Detection of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) from Exhaled Breath

Published:September 29, 2021DOI:
      Severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is transmitted through airborne particles in exhaled breath, causing severe respiratory disease, coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19), in some patients. Samples for SARS-CoV-2 testing are typically collected by nasopharyngeal swab, with the virus detected by PCR; however, patients can test positive for 3 months after infection. Without the capacity to assay SARS-CoV-2 in breath, it is not possible to understand the risk for transmission from infected individuals. To detect virus in breath, the Bubbler—a breathalyzer that reverse-transcribes RNA from SARS-CoV-2 particles into a sample-specific barcoded cDNA—was developed. In a study of 70 hospitalized patients, the Bubbler was both more predictive of lower respiratory tract involvement (abnormal chest X-ray) and less invasive than alternatives. Samples tested using the Bubbler were threefold more enriched for SARS-CoV-2 RNA than were samples from tongue swabs, implying that virus particles were being directly sampled. The barcode-enabled Bubbler was used for simultaneous diagnosis in large batches of pooled samples at a lower limit of detection of 334 genomic copies per sample. Diagnosis by sequencing can provide additional information, such as viral load and strain identity. The Bubbler was configured to sample nucleic acids in water droplets circulating in air, demonstrating its potential in environmental monitoring and the protective effect of adequate ventilation.
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