Fitbit said this week that its fitness wearables could detect COVID-19 in their users before they show any sign of symptoms.
“In May, we announced the launch of the Fitbit COVID-19 study aimed at building an algorithm that detects COVID-19 before symptoms start,” the firm explains. “In just over two months, more than 100,000 Fitbit users across the US and Canada have enrolled, with more than 1,000 positive cases of the virus reported. This study presents an exciting opportunity to see how the power of the Fitbit community will help us better understand this new and complex disease.”
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Fitbit has submitted its early research for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but it is sharing some of the preliminary findings ahead of that publication. Among them is the claim that Fitbit’s devices can detect almost “50 percent of COVID-19 cases one day before participants reported the onset of symptoms with 70 percent specificity.” The firm notes the importance of getting this data so quickly because people can transmit the virus before they have symptoms.
“Our study also reinforces that breathing rate, resting heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) are all useful metrics for indicating onset of illness and are best tracked at night, when the body is at rest,” Fitbit continues. “Our research shows that HRV, which is the beat-to-beat variation of the heart, often decreases in people who are exhibiting symptoms of illness, while resting heart rate and breathing rate are often elevated. In some cases, those metrics begin to signal changes nearly a week before participants reported symptoms.”
Fitbit also says that it findings confirm some other theories about COVID-19, including that being older, male, or having a high body-mass index (BMI) increases the likelihood of severe outcomes. And that shortness of breath and vomiting are the symptoms most likely to predict that someone with COVID-19 will need to be hospitalized. Sore throat and stomachache were among the symptoms least likely to predict a need for hospitalization, Fitbit says.
<p>I’m super skeptical about these claims but assuming they’re true one hopes Fitbit treats this as an open source obligation rather than a selling point for their devices.</p><p><br></p><p>Edit to add that my suspicion is that this is going to turn out to be a “correlation is not causation” situation.</p>