In a new study, researchers found evidence that suggests smartwatches can detect COVID-19 symptoms before a person has become aware that they are infected.
They tested 297 healthcare workers by looking at data from their Apple Watches.
The research was conducted by a team at Mount Sinai.
One of the early signs of a COVID-19 infection is inflammation in infected areas of the body. And when inflammation begins, the body responds by slightly altering blood flow.
That change in blood flow can be seen in slight changes to a person’s heartbeat, detectable via smartwatches like the one from Apple.
By noting a person’s heartbeat over long periods of time, a smartwatch can determine a normal baseline for the person wearing the watch.
And when a sudden prolonged change happens, such as sustained heart rate variability, the device can detect that, too.
In the study, the team asked volunteers to wear the smartwatch full-time and also to install a watch app that specifically looked for sustained changes in their heartbeat.
They found that the watches were able to identify two-thirds of those people who have infected an average of 7 days before the volunteers noticed any symptoms.
Researchers say it is possible that engineers can make apps for the smartwatches to alert the user, who could then self-quarantine until tested.
One author of the study is Robert P. Hirten.
The study is published on medRxiv.
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