Published on 08 Oct 2021

Using indoor air sampling surveillance to sniff out COVID-19

Dr Irvan

A joint team of researchers in Singapore have have developed a capability to detect airborne SARS-CoV-2 RNA – the nucleic acid coding for the virus that causes COVID-19 – indoors through air sampling. 

The COVID-19 Delta variant’s rapid spread in Singapore and globally underlines the need for rapid identification of the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment. While wastewater testing is a reliable indicator of the presence of virus in sewage discharge, the retrospective nature of this approach means pre-emptive action is not possible.

Published in Indoor Air on 14 Sept, the project was led by NTU Professor Stephen Schhuster from Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE) at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), in collaboration with Associate Professor David Allen from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

When the new air sampling surveillance was trialled in two inpatient wards of a Singapore hospital caring for active COVID-19 patients, it produced a much higher detection rate than conventional surface swab sampling. 

These promising findings show the potential of the airborne surveillance system for the early detection of COVID-19 which could warn of infection risk, especially in hospitals and nursing homes, and also in enclosed places where large numbers of people congregate.

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