AARP Eye Center
By now we all know the symptoms of a coronavirus infection, but the watch-for list is difficult to distinguish from that of a bad cold or the flu.
Worse, doctors have noted that by the time some people realize they have COVID-19, they're in a life-threatening situation. But what if a device could give you an early warning of infection?
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Researchers believe that such a gadget may already be on your wrist.
By using the smartwatches and fitness bands many of us wear every day, science and health experts have been studying ways to detect illness before an individual notices the physical signs. As many as 1 in 5 Americans use a smartwatch or fitness band, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center study.
Devices detect subtle differences
Subtle changes in heart rates or blood oxygen saturation levels could alert you to an infection days before you feel adverse effects or see visible symptoms. Detecting so-called asymptomatic people, who never get sick, and presymptomatic people, who get sick several days later, is not only good for those infected; rather, researchers consider it critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
"Prior studies have shown that changes in resting heart rate precede the onset of a fever,” one indicator of COVID-19, says Jennifer Radin, an epidemiologist at the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, near San Diego. She is the principal investigator for the institute's Digital Engagement & Tracking for Early Control & Treatment (DETECT) study, which encourages fitness-band and smartwatch wearers to download an app called MyDataHelps to track their heart rates and sleep patterns.
Like other approaches, the MyDataHelps app for Android and Apple smartphones is compatible with multiple devices, Radin says. It can tap into information from devices ranging from smartwatches, like the Garmin Fenix 6 and Apple Watch, to activity trackers, such as the Fitbit Charge 4 and Polar A370.
The manufacturers emphasize that none of these accessories is a medical device. Nevertheless, the technology can provide invaluable insights into a person's health, according to researchers.