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article imageCan digital biomarkers predict COVID-19? Special

By Tim Sandle     Jan 6, 2021 in Science
A new study indicates that consumer wearable devices (such as a Fitbit), when configured to continuously measure vital signs, has a reasonable predictive ability for assessing the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.
The study not only covers the betacoronavirus that has been causing the global pandemic (SARS-CoV-2) but also other infectious diseases of concern. The study looked at data collected from consumer smartwatches, with a focus on identifying pre-symptomatic detection of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The researchers studied physiological and activity data a series of people infected with COVID-19. By looking at 32 people drawn from a cohort of some 5,300 participants. It was discovered that 26 of the subjects (81 percent) experienced changes in their heart rate, the number of daily steps they were taking or variations in the time they were asleep.
With those who showed detectable physiological alterations, 22 of the subjects showed changes before any symptoms appeared. With four of the people, the physiological changes occurred nine days before any symptoms appeared.
When the researchers took these findings and paired these with retrospective smartwatch data, it was demonstrated that in 63 percent of the COVID-19 cases could have been detected before symptom onset in real time. Of the different biomarker measurements, the most significant were a rise in elevations in resting heart rate.
The conclusion is that tracking and health monitoring via consumer wearable devices has a role to play in predicting the likelihood of developing COVID-19. The study has been published in the journal Nature, under the heading "Pre-symptomatic detection of COVID-19 from smartwatch data."
Speaking with Digital Journal about the research, Lux Research analyst Danielle Bradnan says: "While Fitbit has been using digital biomarkers to monitor employees for the likelihood of an immune response since June 2020, the company has steered away from making claims about COVID-19 specifically. Recently, Fitbit published a paper demonstrating its accuracy at detecting COVID-19 specifically."
In terms of the findings, Brandan notes: "The accuracy may appear low at first glance, but the ability to detect a communicable disease with any level of accuracy is revolutionary, and with additional funding granted by the U.S. Army, the accuracy is likely to go up. Clients should view this research as a call to arms regarding the importance of digital biomarkers not just in the fight against COVID-19 but as a way to enter the healthcare space."
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