A mask that can detect coronavirus in just 10 minutes has been developed by scientists.
The highly-sensitive face covering can detect the novel bug in the air and alert the wearer via an app on their phone. It can also pick up swine flu and bird flu.
Those diseases spread through droplets in the air released by infected people when they talk, cough or sneeze.
The tiny, invisible molecules can remain suspended in the air for a long time and people catch illnesses by breathing in a big cluster of the molecules as they lurk.
Researchers in China tested the mask in an enclosed chamber by spraying liquid containing virus proteins onto the face covering.
The sensor responded to just 0.3 microlitres of the liquid.
That is between 70 and 560 times less than the amount of liquid produced by one sneeze and even less than the amount produced by coughing or talking.
The sensor contains aptamers, a type of synthetic molecule that can identify proteins in pathogens.
They tested their model with aptamers that can recognise Covid-19, swine flu and bird flu.
Once the aptamers bound to the virus proteins in the air, a gadget called an ion-gated transistor alerted wearers to the pathogens via their phones.
Study corresponding author Dr Yin Fang, of Shanghai Tongji University, said: “Previous research has shown face mask wearing can reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the disease.
“We wanted to create a mask that can detect the presence of virus in the air and alert the wearer.
“Our mask would work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as lifts or enclosed rooms, where the risk of getting infected is high.
“In the future, if a new respiratory virus emerges, we can easily update the sensor’s design for detecting the novel pathogens.”
The team now want to make the mask detect diseases even faster and create wearable devices that can help people manage other illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
The findings were published in the journal Matter.