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New wearable predicts if you’re getting flu

The new way of tracking and predicting flu outbreaks is an example of how hospitals create with technology which can be commercialized. With the new development – a wearable thermometer – the Thermia online health educational tool was developed at Boston Children’s Hospital. The system, when tested out, predicted seasonal influenza outbreaks in China one month earlier than ahead of conventional epidemiological tracking.

The development is one of the first examples where an integrated wearable device and online tool has been used to successfully predict a disease outbreak. This type of data is of benefit to health services and governments in terms of planning for and responding to major health emergencies. The development promises other applications and the success of the Boston Children’s Hospital initiative should see other technology developers following suite.

According to lead researcher Yulin Hswen: “The fact that we were able to predict influenza outbreaks faster than China’s national surveillance programs really shows the capacity for everyday, wearable digital health devices to track the spread of disease at the population level.”

With the technology, the Thermia platform is a fever educational tool which can operate as a standalone digital application or it can collect temperature data via a wearable device called the iThermonitor. This is a type of patch-like medical device affixed under the arm. Bluetooth technology links the iThermonitor to a smartphone or tablet, allowing the user to continuously and quietly monitor the wearer’s temperature via an iOS or Android App.

The iThermonitor was developed in China, with the Thernia software developed in the U.S. Together the device and the software presents a low cost, digital solution for disease tracking and prediction. With the software, the results can not only be made available to medical professionals but also any smartphone user.

The case study, where flu in China was predicted, involved collecting 45,000 data points from China’s Thermia users between 2014 and 2016. This was subject to big data analytics, upon which predictions were made about the timing and the spread of influenza cases.

The new technology has been reported to the American Journal of Public Health. The research paper is titled “Use of a Digital Health Application for Influenza Surveillance in China.”

Readers who wish to follow up on new innovations in health technology of relevance to influenza should read the Digital Journal article “Painless flu patch for those who don’t like needles.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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