Background Infection with SARS-CoV-2 causes corona virus disease (COVID-19). The most standard diagnostic method is reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) on a nasopharyngeal and/or an oropharyngeal swab. The high occurrence of false-negative results due to the non-presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the oropharyngeal environment renders this sampling method not ideal. Therefore, a new sampling device is desirable. This proof-of-principle study investigated the possibility to train machine-learning classifiers with an electronic nose (Aeonose) to differentiate between COVID-19-positive and negative persons based on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) analysis. Methods Between April and June 2020, participants were invited for breath analysis when a swab for RT-PCR was collected. If the RT-PCR resulted negative, the presence of SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies was checked to confirm the negative result. All participants breathed through the Aeonose for five minutes. This device contains metal-oxide sensors that change in conductivity upon reaction with VOCs in exhaled breath. These conductivity changes are input data for machine learning and used for pattern recognition. The result is a value between - 1 and + 1, indicating the infection probability. Results 219 participants were included, 57 of which COVID-19 positive. A sensitivity of 0.86 and a negative predictive value (NPV) of 0.92 were found. Adding clinical variables to machine-learning classifier via multivariate logistic regression analysis, the NPV improved to 0.96. Conclusions The Aeonose can distinguish COVID-19 positive from negative participants based on VOC patterns in exhaled breath with a high NPV. The Aeonose might be a promising, non-invasive, and low-cost triage tool for excluding SARS-CoV-2 infection in patients elected for surgery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6671-6678
Number of pages8
JournalSurgical endoscopy and other interventional techniques
Issue number12
Early online date2 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Electronic nose
  • Exhaled air
  • Innovative diagnostics
  • Volatile organic compounds

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