What if rather than waiting to get sick, you could find out if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or the flu via an app connected to your facemask?

Scientists in China have created a sensor that can attach to a mask and detect levels of virus in the air up to 560 times smaller than that produced by a sneeze.

“Previous research has shown facemask wearing can reduce the risk of spreading and contracting the disease,” said Yin Fang of Shanghai Tongji University.

“We wanted to create a mask that can detect the presence of virus in the air and alert the wearer.”

The sensor can detect as little as 0.3 microlitres of virus-carrying liquid – less than that’s produced by coughing and talking.

It can “detect even trace levels of pathogens in the air within 10 minutes”, the scientists behind it said.

“Our mask would work really well in spaces with poor ventilation, such as elevators or enclosed rooms, where the risk of getting infected is high,” said Fang. 

It’s estimated as many as 18 million people have been killed by COVID-19 since it emerged in late 2019, and an unknown number continue to suffer from its long-term effects. The World Health Organization has been criticised for taking so long to acknowledge it’s airborne

The new facemask was revealed this week in Cell Reports.