Online Originals: ECU researchers discover new way to detect coronavirus through building ventilation systems

National News

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Researchers at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine have found a new way to detect the virus that causes COVID-19 by testing the air passing through building ventilation systems.

The study could lead to earlier detection of the virus, improved quarantine protocols, reduced transmission and fewer outbreaks.

Two people spearheaded the effort. Dr. Sinan Sousan is an assistant professor in Brody’s Department of Public Health and Research Faculty at North Carolina Agromedicine Institute who is also an expert of environmental and occupational airborne exposure. Dr. Rachel Roper is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology with an extensive background studying coronaviruses. Together, they have been working to learn whether SARS-CoV-2 could be detected through the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems in student dorms.

The team collected a total of 248 air samples from two large student dormitories as well as an isolation suite housing COVID-positive students during the 2021 spring semester.

Roper and Sousan recently published their findings in The American Journal of Infection Control, representing a possible quantum leap when it comes to early detection of COVID-19 before an individual even tests positive.

“The challenge was to collect enough virus and have it concentrated enough. And also to keep it intact until we got it into the lab because we couldn’t detect the RNA if it was already degraded and then we had to extract it enough in a compatible way so it would work in the PCR. So we were really excited we were able to get it to work,” Roper said.

The professors told 9OYS there is still further research to be done to better utilize this study on larger scales. They believe their findings could be used in hotels, prisons, dorms and other larger buildings for surveillance to test for COVID and other air spread viruses.

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