Thais testing device that can detect Covid-19 infection through armpit sweat

The research team from Chulalongkorn University’s chemistry department collecting sweat samples from market vendors on Sept 8, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - For sellers in Bangkok's markets, the armpit sweat soaking their T-shirts during the humid monsoon season may contain subtle signs of coronavirus infection, local scientists have said.

Thai researchers are developing a sweat-based mobile virus detector, and road-tested it on shopkeepers at a Bangkok food market this week.

"From the samples, we found that people infected with Covid-19 secrete very distinct chemicals," said Dr Chadin Kulsing from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"We used this finding to develop a device to detect the specific odours produced by certain bacteria in the sweat of Covid-19 patients."

Dr Chadin - who said the test was 95 per cent accurate - hopes it might be rolled out as an affordable alternative to more expensive swab tests that require laboratory processing.

It is, however, still in the development stage, and the research behind it is yet to be published or peer-reviewed.

The scientists adapted a device usually used to detect toxic chemicals in the environment. Subjects place a cotton swab under their arms for 15 minutes, before the swab is put in a glass vial and sterilised with ultraviolet rays.

"The technician then draws an appropriate amount of the sample using a suction hose, and pressurises it into the analyser to check the results," Dr Chadin said.

Sample collection takes 15 minutes and the results are ready in 30 seconds.

The sweat tests received the thumbs-up from Bangkok market vendors, who said these were much more pleasant than nostril swab tests.

"This sweat test is more convenient because I get to work while waiting for the results," a 43-year-old watermelon seller told AFP.

Dr Chadin Kulsing inspecting the device that detects the coronavirus through specific odours. PHOTO: AFP

"With the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, I would have to be at a testing centre, sit and wait for the result and it just wastes my time."

Thailand, which is battling its third and worst Covid-19 wave, reported 16,000 new cases on Thursday (Sept 9), taking the total since the start of the pandemic to nearly 1.34 million.

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