Mumbai civic body to soon screen patients for Covid-19 using voice samples, AIUpdated: Aug 05, 2020 02:53 IST
After conducting antigen and antibody testing, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is set to diagnose citizens for Covid-19 on the basis of their sound waves.
By the next week, the civic body will commence the non-invasive voice analysis of suspected and confirmed Covid-19 patients at the NESCO jumbo Covid-19 centre in Goregaon. The results of the analysis can indicate the presence of the virus in 30 seconds, and those testing positive, will undergo a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) swab test to confirm if they are infected.
Using artificial intelligence, Dr RN Cooper Municipal General Hospital, which is run by the civic body, will conduct the study on 2,000 patients at the centre.
RT-PCR is considered the gold standard test for diagnosing Sars-Cov-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – but the result through this testing method takes more than eight hours. In contrast, a rapid antigen test can give results within 30 minutes, but this method can give a higher rate of false negatives according to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
As lockdown restrictions have eased, civic officials said economic alternatives are required to rapidly and accurately diagnose the cases of Covid-19.
Dr Neelam Andrade, dean of Nair Dental Hospital, who is in-charge of the NESCO facility, said that though the concept of diagnosing patients through their sound waves is new, several countries such as the United States of America and Israel are using it.
When the symptoms of Covid-19 manifest, a patient starts developing breathing problems, which affects the amount of air exhaled, thereby interacting with inflamed muscles on its journey to generate voices or speeches. These interactions impact voice modulations—measurable qualities that form the basis of their biomarkers. Depending on its variations, an individual can be detected with Covid-19, said Dr Andrade.
“There is a voice application which can be installed on phones or laptops. The suspected patient will be asked to count a few numbers before the device, similar to conducting a breath analyser test. The voice sample will automatically get synced with the main server of the provider. Then, through artificial intelligence, the result will be procured within 30 seconds,” said Dr Andrade.
The app will analyse voices of three types of individuals — suspected, positive and negative patients. Depending on their vocal biomarkers (VB), they will be diagnosed. For example, if a person’s VB is below the standard point (0.5), the person will be considered as negative. But if anyone records VB above it, the person will be considered a suspected patient and undergo RT-PCR test for a confirmed result.
“As the technology is in the initial stage, we need to cross-check its results. So even if a person tests negative, he/she will have to undergo voice analysis to check the authenticity of the technology. It will take two-three months to conclude the study,” said Suresh Kakani, additional commissioner, BMC.
Cooper hospital, which has been given the responsibility of conducting the study, is yet to get the final nod from its ethical committee. “We are hoping to get it in a day or two,” added Kakani.
Dr KK Agarwal, a cardiologist and former president of Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “For centuries, doctors have relied on sound beats of the heart to detect a person through a stethoscope. Now, the same technique can be used to screen suspected Covid-19 patients. This technology may be new but is being widely used across the globe.”
Medical experts believe that this technique can help detect people faster and earlier, especially when the BMC is planning to open up theatres, malls and restaurants.
“We have seen that people often pop in fever suppressants to avoid getting detected. Later, they spread the virus to more people. But this technique, which is completely non-invasive, can detect infected people easily especially at railway stations and airports,” added Dr Andrade.