Scientists have created a new respiratory virus testing device that can detect the presence of COVID-19 and flu viruses at far lower levels and much faster than traditional tests for either.

A report from tells us that the device was built from graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice structure that is extremely sensitive to electrical changes in its environment.

Both flu and COVID-19 symptoms overlap significantly, making differentiation difficult. This sensor will be extremely valuable when both of these viruses are circulating simultaneously, as was the case earlier this winter, according to Deji Akinwande, Ph.D., who will present the study at the American Chemical Society's spring meeting.

Differentiating COVID-19 and Flu Symptoms

It is possible to contract both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as both viruses cause similar symptoms such as cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, headache, and fatigue. 

While some people may experience no or only minor symptoms, both diseases can be fatal. Being vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza is the most effective method to avoid hospitalization and severe illness. Still, differentiating the two viruses can be challenging.

According to, the group of researchers, which included Dmitry Kireev, Ph.D., a postdoc in Akinwande's lab, linked antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and against the flu virus, to graphene.

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When a sample from an infected person is placed on the sensor, these antibodies attach to their target proteins, causing an electrical current to change.

The sensor was able to detect the presence of viral proteins in extremely low quantities, making it useful for detecting the much more sparse viral particles found in breath.

How the New Device Work in Comparison with Existing Ones

This device could revolutionize the diagnosis of respiratory viruses, as standard tests can identify certain potential pathogens based on chemical reactions. Still, some researchers are interested in substituting chemistry with nanomaterials that detect electrical changes.

Akinwande and other researchers see huge promise in using graphene and related nanomaterials to develop sensors for various applications.

These ultrathin nanomaterials hold the record for the highest sensitivity, even down to the detection of single atoms, and they can improve the capacity to detect very small quantities of virtually anything that needs to be detected, such as bacteria or viruses, in gas or blood.

 More Potential Use of Graphene

This innovative technology might be customized to test for additional pathogens, making it a versatile tool against infectious diseases.

Akinwande and his team are attempting to enhance its performance by detecting a wider range of infections. They are creating a sensor to detect SARS-CoV-2 variants such as omicron and delta with funding from the National Science Foundation.

While they are currently focusing on a two-variant design, the test could be adapted to simultaneously identify even more, they say.

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