Photo/Illutration The research center at Tohoku University that developed technology for a breath test to confirm COVID-19 infection (Provided by Tohoku University)

Researchers in Japan developed a breathalyzer test to determine if someone is infected with the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, a disease characterized by symptoms similar to pneumonia.

Tohoku University and Shimadzu Corp., announcing the joint project Oct. 16, said the device not only can confirm infection within an hour but also determine if an individual is at risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19.

The method is also far safer for medical personnel because samples can be taken without direct contact with the patient. The researchers said they hope the day will come when individuals are able to provide samples from home.

“This is a revolutionary testing method developed while all of mankind is fighting the novel coronavirus,” Hideo Ohno, president of Tohoku University, said at a news conference held to announce the finding.

“This technology is a world-first,” chimed in Teruhisa Ueda, Shimadzu's president. “We hope to commercialize it as soon as possible and sell it on a global scale.”

The device extracts elements derived from viruses found in a person’s breath and analyzes them using equipment developed by Shimadzu.

While it takes about five minutes to collect a breath sample, it is less intrusive than current test methods that involve swabbing a person’s nose or back of the throat.

At the same time, the method enables doctors to predict complications and detect a number of different viruses that are present.

The process for extracting the various elements has also been automated, reducing the risk of medical personnel becoming infected.

A breath sample provides enough information for doctors to gauge a person's overall health condition, the researchers said.

They also plan to expand use of the system by applying the technology to diagnose other diseases, such as those linked to daily life as well as cancer.

Shimadzu has already developed a method for testing for COVID-19 using saliva rather than swabbing a patient.