Wrist trackers could detect covid before symptoms show

Health trackers worn on the wrist could detect Covid 19 days before symptoms appear, new research suggests.

The trackers monitor changes in skin temperature, heart and breathing rates and could be combined with artificial intelligence (AI) to offer a diagnosis, according to a new study.

A team writing in the journal BMJ Open tested the AVA bracelet, an existing fertility tracker that people can buy online to track the best time to conceive. It monitors respiratory rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, wrist skin temperature, and blood flow.

In the study, 1,163 people under the age of 51 were followed in Lichtenstein since the start of the pandemic. They were asked to wear the AVA bracelet at night, with the device saving data every 10 seconds. People have to sleep at least four hours for it to work.

The bracelets were synced with a smartphone app, and the subjects recorded any activity that could affect the results, such as alcohol, prescription medications and recreational drugs.

They also recorded possible symptoms of Covid-19 such as fever. All those who participated in the study underwent regular rapid antibody tests for Covid, while those with symptoms also underwent a PCR swab test.

Overall, 1.5 million hours of physiological data were recorded and Covid was confirmed in 127 people, of whom 66 (52%) had used their device for at least 29 consecutive days and were included in the analysis.

The study found that there were significant changes in the body during the incubation period of infection, the period before symptoms appeared, when symptoms appeared, and during recovery, compared to no infection.

Overall, the tracker and computer algorithm identified 68% of COVID-19 positive people two days before symptoms appeared.

The team, including from the Basel Institute for Cardiovascular Research, concluded there were limits to the research, including that not all Covid cases were captured. But they added: “Wearable sensor technology may enable detection of Covid-19 during the pre-symptomatic period.

“Wearable sensor technology is a low-cost, easy-to-use method of allowing people to track their health and wellness during a pandemic.

“Our research shows how these devices, coupled with artificial intelligence, can push the boundaries of personalized medicine and detect disease before (the onset of symptoms), potentially reducing transmission of the virus in communities.”

The algorithm is now being tested on a much larger group of 20,000 people in the Netherlands, with results expected later in 2022.

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