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A handheld electronic nose, or "e-nose," may help clinicians diagnose pneumonia and sinusitis quickly simply by evaluating exhaled breath. Researchers studying the device believe that easy, fast diagnosis of some respiratory diseases could decrease the inappropriate use of antibiotics.

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Researchers used the e-nose to analyze air samples from the breathing tubes of people on ventilators. In two studies, the device was 70% and 92% accurate, respectively, in diagnosing pneumonia in these patients. These accuracy ratings are about the same as for traditional testing.


In a third study, the e-nose correctly identified the presence or absence of sinusitis in 18 of 22 patients, half of whom were known to have sinusitis.


About the size of a cell phone, the e-nose currently costs about $8,000. It consists of a wand-shaped sniffer with 32 pinhead-sized receptors that digitally analyze various chemical signatures, including those for spoiled food, hazardous chemicals, and disease.


Testing exhaled air for pneumonia takes about 40 minutes. In contrast, results from traditional X-ray and saliva tests may not be available for hours.


The device, dubbed the Cyranose 320 by its maker, Cyrano Sciences, Inc., hasn't received Food and Drug Administration approval yet. Researchers presented their findings at a conference in Phoenix, Ariz., in May.