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Wearable device detects COVID before symptoms appear

Ava fertility tracker

A simple electronic fertility tracker worn around the wrist can detect COVID days before symptoms appear, research has found.

By the time COVID symptoms manifest, it’s often days after you contracted the virus and you’ve most likely already spread it to people around you.

Detecting COVID as soon as possible is paramount to slowing the spread of the disease, and now a global team of researchers from the Dr Risch Medical Laboratory in Liechtenstein, the University of Basel in Switzerland and Imperial College London have demonstrated that information gathered from a common fertility tracker can identify COVID before symptoms are noticeable.

The Ava bracelet, an electronic device worn on the wrist, monitors the user’s breathing rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, skin temperature and blood flow. The information is normally used by women who want to know their optimum time to conceive.

Read: Even mild cases can lead to long COVID, study finds

But in a study published in the journal BMJ Open, the research group showed that by using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the data from the tracker, it was possible to identify those with COVID before any signs of the virus had appeared.

The study followed 1163 people under the age of 51, from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 until April 2021. Participants were required to wear the Ava bracelet to bed each night.

The bracelets were synchronised with a smartphone app, with users recording any activities that could affect the results, such as alcohol intake, prescription medication and recreational drug use.

Read: How COVID affects your sleeping patterns

Of the 1163, 127 people (around 11 per cent) developed COVID, confirmed by a PCR swab test.

When the data for these 127 cases were fed through the AI, the researchers found there were significant differences in the body during the virus’s incubation period and before symptoms appeared and after symptoms appeared, when compared to someone who did not get COVID.

The combination of the health tracker data and computer algorithm correctly identified 68 per cent of COVID positive people two days before their symptoms appeared.

Read: I’ve never had COVID-19. Does this mean I’m in the clear?

“Wearable sensor technology is an easy-to-use, low-cost method to enable individuals to track their health and wellbeing during a pandemic,” the researchers conclude.

“Our research shows how these devices, partnered with artificial intelligence, can push the boundaries of personalised medicine and detect illnesses prior to [symptoms occurring], potentially reducing virus transmission in communities.”

The research team acknowledged the small sample size meant the results could not be generalised to wider society just yet, but a larger study involving 200,000 people is under way in the Netherlands.

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