Wearable Air Sampler Measures Personal COVID Virus Exposure

Wearable Air Sampler Clip

A wearable air sampler clip can monitor personal exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Credit: Adapted from Environmental Science & Technology Letters 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00877

Researchers have developed a new device called the Fresh Air Clip, a wearable passive air sampler that collects virus-laden aerosols, potentially enhancing COVID-19 exposure assessment in high-risk settings like restaurants and healthcare facilities.

The device uses a polydimethylsiloxane surface to adsorb the virus, which is then detected through PCR analysis. Initial testing showed its effectiveness, particularly among restaurant servers, and could help identify areas with higher exposure risks.

Masks, social distancing, proper hygiene, and ventilation can help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in public places, but even with these measures, scientists have detected airborne SARS-CoV-2 in indoor settings. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology Letters have developed a passive air sampler clip that can help assess personal exposure to SARS-CoV-2, which could be especially helpful for workers in high-risk settings, such as restaurants or healthcare facilities.

Development of a New Wearable Virus Monitoring Device

COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the inhalation of virus-laden aerosols and respiratory droplets that infected individuals expel by coughing, sneezing, speaking, or breathing. Researchers have used active air sampling devices to detect airborne SARS-CoV-2 in indoor settings; however, these monitors are typically large, expensive, non-portable, and require electricity. To better understand personal exposures to the virus, Krystal Pollitt and colleagues wanted to develop a small, lightweight, inexpensive, and wearable device that doesn’t require a power source.

Testing and Effectiveness of the Fresh Air Clip

The researchers developed a wearable passive air sampler, known as the Fresh Air Clip, that continually adsorbs virus-laden aerosols on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) surface. The team tested the air sampler in a rotating drum in which they generated aerosols containing a surrogate virus, a bacteriophage with similar properties to SARS-CoV-2. They detected virus on the PDMS sampler using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), showing that the device could be used to reliably estimate airborne virus concentrations.

Then, the researchers distributed Fresh Air Clips to 62 volunteers, who wore the monitors for five days. PCR analysis of the clips detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in five of the clips: Four were worn by restaurant servers and one by a homeless shelter staff person. The highest viral loads (more than 100 RNA copies per clip) were detected in two badges from restaurant servers.

Although the Fresh Air Clip has not yet been commercialized, these results indicate that it could serve as a semiquantitative screening tool for assessing personal exposure to SARS-CoV-2, as well as help identify high-risk areas for indoor exposure, the researchers say.

Reference: “Development and Application of a Polydimethylsiloxane-Based Passive Air Sampler to Assess Personal Exposure to SARS-CoV-2” by Darryl M. Angel, Dong Gao, Kayley DeLay, Elizabeth Z. Lin, Jacob Eldred, Wyatt Arnold, Romero Santiago, Carrie Redlich, Richard A. Martinello, Jodi D. Sherman, Jordan Peccia, and Krystal J. Godri Pollitt, 11 January 2022, Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.1c00877

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation and the Rothberg Fund.

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