If you have watched the film Contagion you can understand how critical it is to rapildly diagnose the out break of flu in a patient, and perhaps avert a major epidemic which can be costly both in terms of human life and also when you look at the economy. Many methods exist to detect viruses like this but until now they have not been as quick as the medical professionals would have liked and have been relatively costly and invasive.
What could be easier than actually analyzing your breath to detect rapidly and efficiently possible flu infection; very similar to the common breath test in determining whether a person is driving under the influence of alcohol, or the nitric oxide test in detecting and helping Asthma sufferers. It is much friendlier on the patient than taking blood and analyzing these samples over time, and it creates no tangible biohazard in the process.
A group of scientists from China have now developed a reliable flu diagnosis tool using exhaled breath condensate or EBC [Shen et al., Nano Lett (2012), doi:10.1021/nl301516z]. The scientists have successfully constructed a silicon nanowire (SiNW) field effect transistor device which is able to act as an influenza virus detector. It has been shown successfully that the SiNW device is highly selective and it was also successful in detecting the H1N1 virus. Magnetic beads were shown to actually enhance the sensitivity of the SiNW for some low level viruses.
The scientists are now exploring the opportunity of developing handheld devices and further commercializing the discovery to revolutionize flu diagnosis in clinical settings.