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Smart ring could give early alert for Covid-19 symptoms

Image credit: reuters

Temperature data collected from a wearable device can be reliably used to detect the onset of a fever – a key symptom of Covid-19 – before the wearer feels it, according to a study from the University of California-San Diego.

The University of California researchers worked with MIT’s Lincoln Lab to assess the effectiveness of the wearable device, which was manufactured by Finnish start-up Oura.

More than 65,000 people have been wearing the smart ring - which records temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and activity levels - with the aim of developing an algorithm which can predict the onset of Covid-19 symptoms such as fever, cough and fatigue.

Oura ring wearable device

Oura ring

Image credit: Oura ring

“This isn’t just a science problem, it's a social problem,” said Professor Benjamin Smarr, a bioengineering expert at the University of California-San Diego and data analytics lead for the project. “With wearable devices that can measure temperature, we can begin to envision a public Covid early alert system.”

Principal investigator Professor Ashley Mason added: “If wearables allow us to detect Covid-19 early, people can begin physical isolation practices and obtain testing so as to reduce the spread of the virus. In this way, an ounce of prevention may be worth even more than a pound of cure.”

Wearable devices can collect temperature data continuously through day and night, allowing researchers to measure true temperature baselines and thus identify fever peaks more accurately than spot checks for raised temperatures: “Temperature varies not only from person to person but also for the same person at different times of the day,” said Smarr.

The researchers noted that fever onset often appeared before the patients reported symptoms, as well as to those who never reported other symptoms.

“It supports the hypothesis that some fever-like events may go unreported or unnoticed without being truly asymptomatic. Wearables therefore may contribute to identifying rates of symptomatic [illness] as opposed to unreported illness [which is] of special importance in the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Scientific Reports study said.

The Covid-19 positive subjects all owned Oura rings. They provided symptom summaries for their illnesses and gave the researchers access to data collected by their rings during the time that they were ill. According to Smarr, the signal for fever onset was very clear (“It looked like it was on fire”).

The data collected for the study will be stored at the university, where a team is building a portal to enable other researchers to access these data for other purposes. The data are stripped of all personal information, including location, with each participant identified only be a random number.

At present, the study is a proof-of-concept effort, with data from just 50 participants reporting Covid-19. The researchers plan to continue recruiting participants, with an emphasis on reflecting the diversity of the US population: “We need to make sure that our algorithms work for everyone,” said Smarr.

The researchers also plan to expand their early detection method to other infectious diseases, such as influenza.

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