New AI-based system enables massive detection of Covid cases with 97% sensitivity

Wash your hands with hydroalcoholic gel, smell it and use a QR code to answer a short questionnaire. These very simple gestures constitute the world’s first patented mass screening system for Covid cases. A research group from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, in collaboration with the Pere Virgili Health Research Institute, developed this method, based on artificial intelligence techniques. The model instantly determines which people are at low, medium or high risk of having the disease at that time with a sensitivity of 97%. The first prototype of this device was installed at the entrance of the University Hospital Sant Joan de Reus and the research results were published in the journal Scientific reports.

Citrus and apple are two of the first aromas people with the SARS-CoV-2 virus stop detecting. Anosmia – that is, the loss of the ability to detect odors – has been one of the characteristic symptoms of Covid since the start of the pandemic. But it’s not the only one. A high temperature, headache, cough, discomfort and sore throat are all signs of the coronavirus but also of a cold or flu. So, without any diagnostic tests, how can you tell which virus your symptoms are caused by? The patented system is based on a hydroalcoholic gel to which a particular concentration of citrus essence has been added. “We knew from the results of previous research that this aroma is one of the first that people with Covid cannot perceive when they lose their sense of smell,” said Eduard Llobet, researcher at the Department of Engineering. electronic, electric and automatic of the URV. “We experimented with different concentrations until we determined which one we needed,” he added.

This test was carried out on approximately 500 patients who, during the second wave of the pandemic, went to the emergency department of the Sant Joan de Reus University Hospital and to the primary care centers of Reus because they had Covid-like symptoms or because they were asymptomatic but had been in close contact with a positive case. They had to rub their hands with the gel and then smell them after three seconds. The result was considered negative if they recognized a citrus fruit, and positive if they could not smell frost or could not detect a citrus aroma. Once done, study participants had to fill out a short questionnaire with the result of the olfactory test and other data such as age, gender and the presence or absence of different symptoms. “We gave each symptom a diagnostic value based on our calculations, and there were eight that we considered statistically significant for detecting the disease,” explained Youcef Aceli, a researcher at IISPV, who led the research. Once the participants gave their answers, they were given a PCR test to check the result.

“The system we have developed is based on machine learning and the results of the questionnaire have been used to generate a model that allows the mass detection of Covid cases when resources do not allow diagnostic tests,” Albert said. Fernandez, URV researcher and developer. of the algorithm based on artificial intelligence. The data ensures almost total sensitivity (97%), which makes it useful as a population screening method.

“Antigen tests on the market have an average sensitivity of 80%, which means that the number of false negatives is 20%. What we have developed is not a diagnostic test, but a screening system which aims to detect the maximum number of positives and avoid false negatives”, explain the researchers.

This device is designed to make people understand the risk that people have of having Covid, which will help to interrupt the chains of transmission. “The aim is to protect the most vulnerable people and to remind people with Covid symptoms to stay at home or take extreme precautionary measures, such as wearing a mask and following the recommendations of health authorities,” explains Aceli. .

The prototype, for which the IISPV and the URV have filed a European patent, is in the process of being placed on the market. The objective is to have it installed in hospitals, residences, schools or public transport, so that the people who use it are aware of the risk of spreading the virus they carry. The Valorization Unit of the URV and the Innovation and Transfer Unit of the IISPV helped the research team to protect the mass screening system.

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New AI-based system enables massive detection of Covid cases with 97% sensitivity


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