Wearable technology helping to detect Covid-19 infection

In the midst of a global pandemic, rapid and effective detection infection with Covid-19 is vital to slow and control the spread of the virus. Existing methods for detecting infection are complex, often inducing surveys and questionnaires, together with temperature measurements. New research, recently published in Nature Medicine, links a smartphone app with wearable technology to identify Covid-19 symptoms.

The research team, from Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, reports that wearable fitness tracker devices, together with data assembled from self-reported symptom data, can identify new Covid cases with greater accuracy than by relying on symptoms alone.

Among the commonly reported symptoms is an increase in temperature, though this is not actually as common as is believed, with the symptom detected in only around 12% of positive test results, and under a third of hospitalised patients..

Wearable fitness trackers generate large volumes of data for the wearer. Using this data to create a baseline for any individual allows for objective assessment of ‘normal’ for that person. The data assimilated through the app looks at sleep and activity patterns, and resting heart rate – variations away from that individual’s baseline can indicate an early sign of infection. Identifying infection early allows for rapid isolation, potentially even before symptoms are recognised, reducing the risk of spreading Covid.

“What’s exciting here is that we now have a validated digital signal for COVID-19. The next step is to use this to prevent emerging outbreaks from spreading,” says Eric Topol, MD, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “Roughly 100 million Americans already have a wearable tracker or smartwatch and can help us; all we need is a tiny fraction of them—just 1 percent or 2 percent—to use the app.”