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A Covid Test as Easy as Breathing

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People with diabetes, for instance, may have breath that smells fruity or sweet. The odor is caused by ketones, chemicals produced when the body begins to burn fat instead of glucose for energy, a metabolic state known as ketosis.

“The idea that exhaled breath could hold diagnostic potential has been around for some time,” Dr. Davis said. “There are reports in ancient Greek and also ancient Chinese medical training texts that reference a physician’s use of smell as a way to help guide their clinical practice.”

Modern technologies can detect more subtle chemical changes, and machine learning algorithms can identify patterns in breath samples from people with certain diseases. In recent years, scientists have used these methods to identify unique “breathprints” for lung cancer, liver disease, tuberculosis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions. (Dr. Davis and her colleagues have even used V.O.C. profiles to distinguish among…

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