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COVID Science News

ANSI COVID-19 News: Inside a Disease Detecting Breathalyzer and COVID Test Updates


The ANSI Federation and standardization community are stepping up with guidance, resources, and initiatives to support public health and safety and the nation's recovery. Suggestions for news items may be submitted to [email protected]. All submissions are published at ANSI's discretion.

NIST/JILA Researchers Demonstrate COVID Detecting Breathalyzer

Exhaled breath can reveal a lot about a person’s health conditions, and now there’s a tool to help detect disease with high accuracy: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)/JILA researchers have developed a breathalyzer that can detect SARS-CoV-2 infections with the help of technology.

The breathalyzer uses Nobel Prize-winning frequency-comb technology, combined with machine learning, to detect the presence of specific combinations of molecules that are signatures of disease. The tool, known as the frequency comb breathalyzer, works by identifying “chemical signatures” of molecules based on exact colors and amounts of infrared light absorbed by a sample of exhaled breath. The machine learning component processes and analyzes “a massive, complex mélange of data from all the breath samples as measured by 14,836 comb ‘teeth,’ each representing a different color or frequency to create a predictive model to diagnose disease,” NIST reported.

The research, published in the Journal of Breath Research, included 170 subjects: 83 people tested positive with SARS-CoV-2 infection, and 87 tested negative.

The results revealed that the JILA comb breathalyzer method had excellent accuracy in detecting COVID by using machine learning algorithms on absorption patterns to predict SARS-CoV-2 infection. Discriminating molecules for detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection included H2O (water), HDO (semi-heavy water), H2CO (formaldehyde), NH3 (ammonia), CH3OH (methanol), and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).

“The machine makes predictions with a pretty high accuracy, 85 percent,” said Jun Ye, NIST and JILA fellow. “It’s a perfect marriage between data science and collecting billions of molecular spectroscopy information.”

“What’s interesting is that breath changes, unlike your gene(s), so you can see the timeline of your life, and track your medical history,” he said, adding that researchers are looking to work with medical doctors to look into medical conditions that may need further analysis. “I actually am very confident that this tool is going to become one of the best tools out there to be able to do non-invasive diagnosis of your medical conditions.”

JILA is a joint physical science research institute operated by NIST and the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder). Read more about the technology in the recent NIST news release.

Public Health Emergency Ends, FDA Lists OTC Test Extensions and Guidelines

This month, President Biden signed a bill that effectively marks the end of the U.S. national emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The end of the public health emergency will not affect COVID-19 tests authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and households may still receive free at home COVID-19 tests through the U.S. Postal Service if residents haven’t already received their shipments.

On its website, the FDA lists its authorized at-home OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests, with information on expiration dates, extensions, a list of who can use the test, and other guidelines for people potentially infected.

In February 2023, the FDA issued an emergency authorization for the first at-home test that can simultaneously detect both COVID-19 and the flu.

Access more information on the FDA’s At-Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests page and a recent article detailing testing updates.

See more ANSI member efforts in the ANSI COVID-19 Resource Webpage Highlighting Standardization Community Response


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


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Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


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