Fitness trackers can predict COVID-19 infections, say researchers


  • Dawn O'Shea
  • Univadis Medical News
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Data from the first six weeks of the DETECT study shows encouraging signs that wearable fitness devices could improve public health efforts to control COVID-19.

The DETECT study, launched on 25 March, uses a mobile app to collect smartwatch and activity tracker data from consenting participants and records their self-reported symptoms and diagnostic test results.

In a paper published in Nature Medicine, the DETECT researchers report that wearable devices like Fitbit are capable of identifying cases of COVID-19 by evaluating changes in heart rate, sleep and activity levels, along with self-reported symptom data, and say the approach can identify cases with greater success than looking at symptoms alone.

As of 7 June, 30,529 individuals had enrolled in the study. Of these, 3,811 reported symptoms, 54 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and 279 tested negative. More sleep and less activity than an individual's normal levels were significant factors in predicting COVID-19.

The study authors say: “Our results show that individual changes in physiological measures captured by most smartwatches and activity trackers are able to significantly improve the distinction between symptomatic individuals with and without a diagnosis of COVID-19 beyond symptoms alone. Although encouraging, these results are based on a relatively small sample of participants.”