Smartwatches, fitness trackers may detect Covid symptoms early

Feb 06, 2022
Medical research teams have been assessing the role that smartwatches can play across the pandemic. Source: Getty

From counting your steps, tracking how much sleep you had and what your peak heart rate was during a workout, wearable fitness devices can tell users a lot about their wellbeing. But now, a group of researchers at Mount Sinai allege that health trackers (such as those by Garmin and Fitbit) and smartwatches (such as the Apple Watch) can also help spot Covid-19 symptoms up to a week before an individual is diagnosed. 

CBS News reports that these devices can detect subtle changes in a person’s heartbeat, which can flag that an individual has Covid-19 “up to seven days before they feel sick or infection is detected through testing”. 

“Our goal was to use tools to identify infections at the time of infection or before people knew they were sick,” said Rob Hirten, assistant Professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. 

“We already knew that heart-rate variability markers change as inflammation develops in the body, and Covid is an incredibly inflammatory event,” Hirten told CBS News. “It allows us to predict that people are infected before they know it.”

And they aren’t the only ones who are stating the claims. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a smartwatch app specifically designed to alert users when their body “shows signs of fighting an infection”. 

According to Stanford, the app uses an algorithm that detects changes in an individual’s resting heart rate and step count. Stanford PhD Professor and Chair of Genetics, Michael Snyder, says that the study of retrospective data shows that the app can correctly flag signs of Covid-19, 63 per cent of the time. 

The point of the alerts, said Snyder, is not simply to tell you when you’re sick but to flag the early, covert signs of illness before noticeable symptoms appear. During the pandemic, such alerts would let users know that they may need to quarantine and prompt them to get tested for Covid-19.

Research scientist Tejaswini Mishra, PhD, tells Samford Medicine News Centre that “detecting signs of infection before symptoms set in would be an enormous asset to public health, as a number of Covid-19 transmissions are suspected to have come from asymptomatic individuals or those with mild infection”.

CBS News also reports that wearable device makers are now looking at how their technology could potentially be used to combat the spread of the virus.

Do you own a smartwatch or fitness tracker?

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