Using wearable activity trackers to distinguish COVID-19 from flu

December 21, 2020

By analyzing Fitbit data and self-reported symptoms, researchers from Evidation Health and collaborators analyzed trends in heart rate, step count, and symptom duration between patients with flu and those with COVID-19. While both showed similar-looking spikes in resting heart rate and decreases in average step count, COVID-19 symptoms lasted longer and peaked later. Contrasting and comparing flu and COVID-19 is important for COVID-19 screening, as current practices often only check for more general symptoms like fever. The study was conducted using Evidation's app and network, Achievement--a connected cohort comprised of over 4 million individuals nationwide. The results appear December 12 in the journal Patterns.

"It's surprising to see that many screening tests at building entrances are all temperature-based, since a lot of people don't develop a fever right away and there are so many things that cause fever other than COVID-19." says senior author Luca Foschini, co-founder of Evidation Health, based in the United States. "A huge spike in resting heart rate is a more sensitive indicator of COVID. And for people with activity trackers, you could ask them permission to share that information for screening purposes, just like taking a temperature reading."

The findings confirmed that certain other symptoms are characteristic of COVID but not flu, like shortness of breath and coughing. They also examined the impact of each illness on decreasing daily step count, finding that the impacts lasted much longer for COVID than for flu.

"We used step count to measure change in mobility, because you don't move as much when you're sick," says Foschini, "Compared to their baseline, the number of steps didn't go back to normal for people with COVID, even after three or four weeks."

This result, as well as reports of long-term fatigue, also hinted at the existence of chronic COVID cases, which had not yet been studied closely at the beginning of the pandemic when this data was gathered.

"What was most interesting and surprising to us was looking at the progression of symptoms over time, particularly fatigue," says Foschini. "We didn't know about long-haulers back then, but now we know that Long COVID exists and that the hallmark is persistent fatigue."

While data from wearables such as Fitbit can reveal a lot about these respiratory illnesses, the researchers maintain that it should be used as a general screening method, not a complete diagnostic tool.

"There's potential to use wearable sensors and smartphones as high frequency/low-sensitive tests to shorten the time of detection and awareness of a possible ongoing infection.," says Foschini. "It's not a magic bullet, but if you can isolate yourself one or two days earlier than current standard testing procedures allow , that's the most important thing because infectivity is highest around when symptoms first appear in symptomatic cases."

The researchers however warn that to develop these solutions, it is important to consider flu and other Influenza-like illness as a potential source of false positives. "Whoever designs these systems of detection needs to be wary of other conditions and focus not just on distinguishing COVID from healthy, but distinguishing COVID from anything else going on in the world, including flu," says Foschini. "Only 1 in 5 American have a wearable, and that 20% is not equally distributed. We must focus research toward solutions that can benefit everyone equally."
-end-
This work was supported by Evidation Health.

Patterns, Shapiro et al..: "Characterizing COVID-19 and Influenza Illnesses in the Real World via Person-Generated Health Data"
https://www.cell.com/patterns/fulltext/S2666-3899(20)30258-0

Patterns (@Patterns_CP), published by Cell Press, is a data science journal publishing original research focusing on solutions to the cross-disciplinary problems that all researchers face when dealing with data, as well as articles about datasets, software code, algorithms, infrastructures, etc., with permanent links to these research outputs. Visit: https://www.cell.com/patterns. To receive Cell Press media alerts, please contact press@cell.com.

Cell Press

Related Heart Rate Articles from Brightsurf:

Women veterans with PTSD have higher rate of heart disease
Women veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were 44% more likely to develop ischemic heart disease including heart attacks, compared to those without PTSD.

Flu vaccine rate less than 25% in young adults with heart disease, despite increased risk
In 2018, only about 25% of adults between the ages of 18 and 34 with any cardiovascular disease received a flu shot, and in those with a history of a heart attack, only about 20% were vaccinated.

Depression risk detected by measuring heart rate changes
For the first time doctors have shown that measuring changes in 24-hour heart rate can reliably indicate whether or not someone is depressed.

Death rate dramatically less for young heart attack survivors who quit smoking
Among young people who have had a heart attack, quitting smoking is associated with a substantial benefit.

Say no to vaping: Blood pressure, heart rate rises in healthy, young nonsmokers
New research finds that nicotine-filled e-cigarettes cause increases in heart rate and blood pressure in young people, health issues that remain even after a vaping session.

Heart rate measurements of wearable monitors vary by activity, not skin color
Biomedical engineers at Duke University have demonstrated that while different wearable technologies, like smart watches and fitness trackers, can accurately measure heart rate across a variety of skin tones, the accuracy between devices begins to vary wildly when they measure heart rate during different types of everyday activities, like typing.

Researchers report first recording of a blue whale's heart rate
With a lot of ingenuity and a little luck, researchers monitored the heart rate of a blue whale in the wild.

Pupil dilation and heart rate, analyzed by AI, may help spot autism early
Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders often aren't diagnosed until a child is a few years of age, when behavioral interventions and speech/occupational therapy become less effective.

Heart rate variation due to stress affects auditory attention
Study shows that brain activity related to auditory perception parallels heart rate, offering new perspectives for the treatment of attention and communication disorders.

In HIE, lower heart rate variability signals stressed newborns
In newborns with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, lower heart rate variability correlates with autonomic manifestations of stress shortly after birth, underscoring the importance of this reading as a valuable biomarker, according to Children's research presented during the Pediatric Academic Societies 2019 Annual Meeting.

Read More: Heart Rate News and Heart Rate Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.