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King's College coronavirus app tracks symptoms in twins for vital research

A new app has been launched that allows people to self-report on their coronavirus symptoms, or lack of, in order to determine how fast the virus is spreading in different parts of the country and what are the highest risk areas.

Launched by King's College London on both the Apple Store and Google Play, the Covid Symptom Tracker app is being used by researchers to document the spread of the disease among twins, with around 5,000 twins and their families enrolled to track its spread in real time.

Twins using the app will record information about their health on a daily basis, including temperature, tiredness and symptoms such as coughing, breathing problems or headaches.

Any participants showing signs of Covid-19 will be sent a home testing kit to better understand what symptoms truly correspond to the coronavirus infection. Researchers believe this is clinically urgent given the current limits on testing.

But anyone is free to use the app, albeit without being sent a home testing kit, as the researchers believe the study could help scientists to understand how Covid-19 progresses in different people, and why some go on to develop more severe or fatal disease while others have only mild symptoms.

Comparing genetically identical twins with non-identical twins, who are as related as regular siblings, will also enable researchers to separate the effects of genes from environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle, previous illnesses and infections, and the microbes within the gut.

Samples taken from the twin group will be used to generate a biobank for use in future research projects investigating infection and immune responses.

The app could help the urgent clinical need to distinguish mild coronavirus symptoms from seasonal coughs and colds, which may be leading people to unnecessarily self-isolate when they aren’t infected or inadvertently go out and spread the disease when they are.

The free monitoring app has been developed as a partnership between researchers at King’s College London and health data science company ZOE, which is a spin-out from King’s.

Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London said: “These are worrying times for everyone. Our twins are fantastically committed, enthusiastic health research participants who have already been studied in unprecedented detail, putting us in a unique position to provide vital answers to support the global fight against Covid-19.

“The more of the public that also use the app, the better the real-time data we will have to combat the outbreak in this country.”

Researchers have been quick to use technology in the fight against Covid-19 with an app in development that uses AI and home assessment to help people determine whether they have the virus.

But cyber criminals have been abusing people’s desire to know more about the disease by releasing apps that claim to track the spread of the virus only to lock down a user’s phone and demand a ransom payment for the unlock code.

The UK government is also contentiously using data from mobile operators to track the movement of vast swathes of people in order to determine how effectively its lockdown protocols are being upheld.

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