A prototype N95 face mask with a sensor built into the breath valve appears to be highly sensitive to virus proteins in early-stage tests

By Clare Wilson

A face mask with an integrated virus sensor could detect tiny amounts of the coronavirus after a 10-minute conversation with someone who is infected.

The mask would then send a signal to the smartphone of the person wearing the face covering, letting them decide to leave an area where coronavirus is in the air – or take off their mask if they feel safe when there is no virus detected.

But the results so far are based on early-stage work. The mask hasn’t yet been tested against whole viruses – just the coronavirus’s surface proteins – and the technology is still in development, says Yin Fang at Tongji University in China.

Fang’s team has developed a tight-fitting N95 type of face mask that detects outer proteins from three viruses: two flu strains, H5N1 and H1N1, and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes covid-19.

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