According to recent research, smartwatches and fitness wearables may play a valuable role in the early detection of COVID-19. Mount Sinai researchers have discovered that, as CBS News announced, the Apple Watch may detect minor changes in the heartbeat of a consumer that could mean they have the coronavirus a full week before they feel sick. One company is also creating a custom wearable to track COVID-19, both of which could benefit by holding asymptomatic people at home to avoid the spread of the disease.
The Mount Sinai researchers tracked a group of 297 health care staff between April 29 and September 29 in a study dubbed “Warrior Watch.” Participants wore Apple Watches with special apps that monitored changes in the variability of their heart rate (HRV). “Up to seven days before individuals had a positive nasal swab indicating infection with COVID-19, the watch showed substantial improvements in HRV metrics,” said study author Robert P. Hirten, MD.
A related study conducted by Stanford University showed that participants wearing a variety of Garmin, Fitbit, Apple and other trackers found that up to nine and a half days before the onset of symptoms, 81 percent of patients testing positive for coronavirus had improvements in their resting heart rate.
The fact that many people are asymptomatic is one of the difficult things about COVID-19, meaning they have no symptoms but are also infectious. This makes it impossible to avoid this infection by using the conventional approach of finding and quarantining anyone who is ill.
The consequences of the experiments are obvious. “It will really be a breakthrough in the management of COVID-19 to establish a way to detect people who may be ill even before they realize they are infected,” Dr. Hirten said. “This technology enables us not only to control and forecast health outcomes but also to intervene in a timely and remote manner, which is necessary during a pandemic that requires individuals to remain apart.”
Also a custom wearable for early detection of Covid-19 is being produced by a company named NeuTigers.
Recognizing that the humble consumer smartwatch can pick up symptoms, the company has used Princeton University research to create an artificial intelligence product named CovidDeep, which can help warn those in healthcare settings and care homes of their risk of transmission.
The wearable patient monitoring system, called the Empatica E4, takes a number of daily skin, heart rate and blood pressure measurements with the sole purpose of early detection of Covid-19 symptoms. The patient information is then passed to the CovidDeep device, which detects the virus at a rate of 90%, which is more reliable than your standard temperature screening for shop entry.
It is uncertain in terms of when these research advances will make their way into the hands (or on the wrists) of the general public, but businesses are moving quickly to market their results. For instance, NeuTigers has committed itself to creating an in-house app that could work with Apple, Fitbit, Samsung and several other brands of smartwatches.
Could this mark a big move in the battle against Covid-19 globally? With vaccines starting to roll out globally, early detection of infection must be the next priority. To get your steps in, your smart watch might soon become more than an irritating reminder.