Leicester

Coronavirus screening trial planned by University of Leicester

Researcher Image copyright University of Leicester
Image caption Researchers claim the masks could help prevent long quarantine periods

Researchers hope to trial low-cost face masks that can detect whether someone has infectious coronavirus before they display any symptoms.

Experts at the University of Leicester said if successful, the method could simplify large-scale screening for the virus and curb the spread of Covid-19.

The sampling masks will be adapted using 3D printed strips and can trap exhaled microbes in a 30-minute period.

About 80,000 people so far have been infected with the disease worldwide.

Scientists claim the adapted masks could allow large groups to be checked at once, which could help curb the spread of the virus and avoid long stays in quarantine.

Mike Barer, professor of clinical microbiology at the university, said: "Coronavirus is spread from the mouth, throat and respiration system of infected individuals.

"This new approach is exciting because it could help us determine whether a person is infectious or not, even before symptoms of the virus have appeared.

"Measuring how much of the virus is breathed out by using the mask sampling approach will allow us to compare levels of the virus exhaled by different individuals, and could help us focus control efforts on preventing spread."

"The mask can easily be processed in any standard virus diagnostic laboratory," he added.

Image copyright University of Leicester
Image caption Experts say the sampling masks could detect whether someone has coronavirus before they display any symptoms

Adapted masks have previously been successfully used to screen patients for tuberculosis, researchers said.

Initially the sampling masks will be tested on patients with other respiratory infections and the results will then be compared to throat swab results.

If that trial validates the new approach, researchers will then move on to using the masks in trials with the new coronavirus.

It is expected to take between two to three months to reach this stage.

The university said if the sampling masks were manufactured on an "industrial scale" they could potentially cost "pennies".

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