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The marijuana breathalyzer is here. Next up: a breathalyzer to catch people infected with COVID-19

The same company debuting a marijuana breathalyzer this year is now set to use that same technology to develop a breathalyzer for COVID-19.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Hound Labs isn't stopping to celebrate the upcoming debut of its marijuana breathalyzer that's set to hit the market across the nation later this year. It's already launched into its next breathalyzer: one to catch people infected with COVID-19.

"Hound Labs created the COVID-19 breathalyzer based on the same exquisitely sensitive technology platform that we use for the Hound marijuana breathalyzer that's coming to market later this year," said Dr. Mike Lynn, the CEO of Hound Labs.

Lynn said the endeavour started as a project to detect pneumonia. But, when the pandemic hit the company shifted focus to COVID-19.

"We developed the COVID-19 breathalyzer because our belief (and this was last winter and spring when the pandemic was just starting) we believe that COVID-19 had to be spread via breath. It just didn't make any sense that the prevailing wisdom that it was spread through droplets on a doorknob or on a plate or a package or something like that could spread it so widely and so quickly," he said. 

Lynn said the COVID-19 breathalyzer is not yet ready for the market. It still needs to undergo a clinical trial.

RELATED: Marijuana breathalyzer technology is here, and it’s coming for drivers

Lynn sees the potential of the breathalyzer as stopping 'super spreaders' in their tracks especially by using the technology as a part of large public events or situations in which a number of people need to be screened rapidly for the virus. 

"So, perhaps using it at ballparks or in airports or in schools. There's lots of different places where it could be well utilized," he said.

Lynn said Hound Labs is in the very beginning of its research study and it has so far tested around 85 people with known COVID-19. The company had the participants do a nasal swab for the virus and a breath sample at the same time then compared results. He said around 25% of the people tested were found to have the presence of the virus in their breath.

"If it's in your breath you're much more likely to be a super spreader and those are the folks that we want to focus our attention on, make sure that they are contained and that we do the background tracing and what not," he said. 

Lynn said the breath capture technology used for the COVID-19 breathalyzer is similar to that of its marijuana breathalyzer except instead of looking for the presence of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana), the COVID-19 breathalyzer uses PCR (polymerase chain reaction). A PCR test detects genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus. 

"One of the difficult pieces is actually detecting, grabbing that virus from breath because there's like 500 other things each time you breathe. So, just being able to grab the virus is actually a very difficult technology differentiator and that's what we do well," he said.

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