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UT researchers developing sensor that can test for coronavirus, flu simultaneously

Both illnesses have been compared due to their similar symptoms.

AUSTIN, Texas — COVID-19 has been compared to the flu virtually from the moment it emerged in late 2019. Both share a number of symptoms and, in many cases, an influenza test is included in the COVID-19 diagnosis process.

Scientists at the University of Texas in Austin are now researching a new sensor that can detect the difference between the two – and test for both – at the same time.

This comes as Texas is currently seeing a spike in cases and public health experts anticipate another during the fall and winter.

“With a second wave of the coronavirus likely to appear right as we get into flu season, there’s an urgent need for diagnostics that can differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza,” said Deji Akinwande, a professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Researches say the dual test is more convenient for patients, preventing them from having to get multiple tests done. It also saves time for medical staff at a time when resources are already stretched thin. Additionally, the test would reduce the usage of nasal swabs amid an equipment shortage.

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Along with his team, Akinwade recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation. They have developed a prototype sensor and are now starting their experimentation phase.

The new sensor is about the size of a USB drive and is infused with antibodies of both coronavirus and influenza. One part of the device is sensitive to only the flu, while the other is sensitive to COVID-19. As of now, they have not yet decided how the test will be conducted, though saliva could be an option.

“Building a simple sensor for detecting COVID-19 alone wouldn’t be a great advantage for us because there are already several different ways to do so,” said Dmitry Kireev, a postdoctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering who is working on the project. “The distinction of our work is developing a dual-sensor that can quickly differentiate between both diseases.”

RELATED: Texas study shows COVID-19 convalescent plasma therapy is safe and helps most patients get better

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