(HealthDay News) — Breath analysis seems promising for detecting COVID-19, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers examined the diagnostic accuracy of breath analysis for identifying patients with COVID-19 during periods of delta and omicron prevalence between April 2021 and May 2022. A total of 205 breath samples from 167 adults were analyzed; 77 patients had COVID-19, and 91 had non-COVID-19 illness.

There were 94 samples positive for SARS-CoV-2, including 41 samples from patients infected with delta or other variants in 2021 and 53 samples from patients infected with the omicron variant in 2022.

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The researchers found that 4 volatile organic compound (VOC) biomarkers differentiated between COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 illness with 94.7% accuracy when it came to delta and other 2021 variants. When these biomarkers were applied to the omicron variant, accuracy dropped to 82.1%.

Four new VOC biomarkers could differentiate the omicron variant and non-COVID-19 illness with 90.9% accuracy. Omicron could be distinguished from earlier variants with an accuracy of 91.5%, and all variants could be distinguished from non-COVID-19 illness with 90.2% accuracy using breath analysis.

“The findings of this diagnostic study suggest that breath analysis has promise for COVID-19 detection,” the researchers wrote. “However, similar to rapid antigen testing, the emergence of new variants poses diagnostic challenges. The results of this study warrant additional evaluation on how to overcome these challenges to use breath analysis to improve the diagnosis and care of patients.”

Several study authors disclosed financial ties to the biotechnology industry. One author holds a patent for a component of the portable gas chromatography device used in the study.

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