Covid-19: new device detects viral load indoors

Since the beginning of the new coronavirus pandemic, we have learned a few things about the cause of covid-19. One of the main findings is that the virus spreads through the air in the form of an aerosol — very small droplets of saliva that are suspended longer in the air.

An effective way to stop the pandemic is to measure the viral load in the air we breathe. To accomplish this task, researchers at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) created a device called CoronaTrack. Now, the meter has evolved and is called CoronaTrap.

The new viral monitoring device, dubbed the CoronaTrapThe new viral monitoring device, dubbed the CoronaTrapSource: UERJ/Reproduction.

Unlike its predecessor, created in 2020, CoronaTrap not only measures the amount of virus present in the air, but also traps the virus in its interior. As the first device was sensitive to environmental factors, the virus often degraded even before it was analyzed in the laboratory – which resulted in false-negative tests.

According to the researchers, the new device is more efficient and captures and measures the viral load in different types of environments, based on aerosols present in the atmosphere. While CoronaTrack relies on an individual moving carrier to function, CoronaTrap can stand still and monitor larger areas, as well as preserving SARS-CoV-2 longer during collection — making environmental analysis results more reliable.

Understand aerosols

Contrary to what was thought at the beginning of the pandemic, the main means of contagion of the coronavirus are not the surfaces, but the air, through aerosols, tiny particles generated by talking, sneezing or coughing – and in some medical procedures -, which are suspended in the atmosphere for hours and can be carried by air currents.

See CoronaTrap in action:

The video images were recorded during a collection at Central do Brasil, a train terminal located in Rio de Janeiro. The team that created the device is led by professor Heitor Evangelista, from the Laboratory of Radioecology and Global Change (Laramg) of the Department of Biophysics and Biometrics at UERJ.

How does CoronaTrap work?

CoronaTrap “traps” the virus in a darkroom that prevents direct contact with light and keeps it cool, preventing its deterioration due to temperature, solar radiation or humidity. The device was developed after more than a year of work by the team with the predecessor machine.

The data collected by the new device can prove, in practice, data from theoretical models on the risks of contagion. The device should help understand the behavior patterns of the coronavirus and devise strategies to reduce the number of contaminations. The new monitor is able to collect other viruses, bacteria and fungi — which makes it a potential ally against various threats, such as tuberculosis, for example, another serious disease transmitted by airways.

UERJ stated, in a statement, that the project also stands out for its financial viability, “which reinforces the fundamental role of public universities in scientific production and in the intelligent application of investments”. The research leader stated that the technology created by his team differs from that found in the market due to its low cost.

According to a statement from the university, the researchers are already working on the next step. “The new phase will be dedicated to determining the virus in real time, that is, measuring ‘in situ’ without having to take the sample to the laboratory,” said Evangelista. The professor believes that, soon, it will be possible to reproduce the technology on a large scale, which could “revolutionize studies on contagion and help fight various diseases.”

According to Evangelista, the focus of the study at the moment is the application of prototypes developed by the UERJ team in public schools, in order to better understand the behavior of the virus. In the future, CoronaTrap could be used in closed places with large crowds of people, such as restaurants, cinemas and hospitals.