Scientists are working on a new way to detect Covid-19 – through the fingertips

  • A system is being developed at George Mason University that could detect Covid-19 through the fingertips
  • It could revolutionise screening processes in public spaces, schools, businesses and transport systems
  • The technology will be taught to pick up certain substances in sweat that indicate infection

Shops, restaurants and offices are using temperature readers to screen for potential Covid-19-infected customers and employees, but without an invasive swab test, you can never know for sure who has contracted the potentially deadly virus.

That might change soon as a new technology is being developed to test for the new coronavirus without invasive testing. 

Emanuela Marasco, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology at George Mason University in the US is currently creating a contactless fingertip imaging system that might be able to detect Covid-19.

READ | Retroactive Covid-19 testing indicates numbers in Wuhan and Seattle initially far higher 

Signs in your sweat

The idea is that scanners could pick up certain substances excreted by the body that are unique to SARS-CoV-2. 

“Our study will evaluate the sensitivity of sweat metabolite biometrics (body measurements) for detecting the Covid-19 infection in people with and without symptoms,” says Marasco.

“Monitoring biomarkers in sweat is non-invasive, and it could be much more accurate than a temperature check, which is what is currently used.”

Through digital image processing, they are currently analysing capillary lines of fingerprints to detect fingerprints made by fake fingers. The image of the natural skin perspiration then helps to authenticate true fingers and detect the fake ones.

Streamline testing

The technology will use machine learning algorithms to detect the right biomarkers for the disease with real-time testing. It would streamline the process and create a more accurate database of Covid-19 numbers and infection rates, as well as better prevent spread through unsuspecting carriers. 

She is working on the project in partnership with the US National Institute of Health and with funding from the country's National Science Foundation.

READ MORE | Testing for Covid-19? All you need to know about antibody tests

Helping normal life to resume

The university is also interested in using the technology – if it works effectively – to manage the return of their students for the start of the US academic year. 

“It would allow people to enter a facility, a classroom, or the Metro, by scanning their fingertips to make sure they are negative for Covid-19,” adds Marasco.

“We would be able to live a life in which human touch would be less dangerous, and we could return to enjoying in-person meetings.”

READ | Covid-19: Stark differences between public and private sector testing

Image credit: Pixabay

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