Coughing into a breathalyser could be the new way to detect the most common form of tuberculosis as the portable device, developed by Rapid Biosensor Systems, would be quicker and easier to use than the current screening method, called the Heaf Test.
The Heaf Test involves an injection of tuberculin into the skin and the patient has to wait one week to see if a reaction develops, which would indicate exposure to infection.
Tuberculin is a fluid containing the products formed by the growth of the bacterium that causes TB. Rapid Biosensor bosses have said that they can deliver 90 per cent accurate results within 10 minutes.
Moreover, the breathalyser is also disposable, cheap and has the potential to screen for other diseases, although it cannot be used as a diagnostic tool.
The breathalyser works through an optic sensor that sits inside the tube and the sensor has a coating designed to attract bacteria. When the patient coughs into the tube, sputum is brought up, a secretion produced in the lungs where tuberculosis
If TB is present in the lungs, it will stick to this optical sensor, giving a positive reading.
Dennis Camilleri, CEO of Rapid Biosensor Systems said they are in the process of trialling the device in Britain and in India, and hope to apply for a company license by May this year.
"We may find our process is accurate enough to be used as a diagnostic tool. We have done trials with ecoli bacteria, which have shown the sensor can detect bacteria easily. Making the jump to TB is not much more complicated," The BBC quoted Camilleri as saying.
A spokesperson for TB Alert, a tuberculosis awareness charity, said: "We would like faster, simpler methods of diagnosis. At the moment a patient has to be seen twice and that already leads to complications.
Furthermore, if the test does show infection, then the patient has to be properly diagnosed, which involves an X-ray or sputum analysis."
However, Dr. Kate King, at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Health Protection Unit said that as the breathalyser could only test for one type of TB, it was unlikely that it could entirely replace the current screening method.
Kate said that around one third of tuberculosis cases involved infection in other organs, such as kidneys, lymph nodes, brain tissue, bones and joints.
"This new device has potential value to people who have tuberculosis in their lungs. This is the only form of the disease that is infectious, and people with it will be sicker than those with tuberculosis infection elsewhere," said Kate.