People who develop serious viral infections, such as the flu, are infectious to others during the early part of the illness. To reduce contagiousness, it would be helpful to detect the early phase of infection before symptoms develop. This way, contagious people could isolate themselves from others. Early detection would also be useful to start treatment early in the course of a disease, which may make treatment more effective and shorten the duration of the illness.

Easy to wear devices create digital markers of infection

Wearable sensors have been shown to be useful to detect infections before symptoms occur. Low-cost and accessible technologies that record physical measurements could empower underserved groups with new digital biomarkers. Digital biomarkers are digitally collected data from wearable devices that indicate health and disease. For example, this includes resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and skin temperature.

Wearable devices may detect flu and the common cold before symptoms

In a new study, research participants wore a wristband that measured movement, skin temperature, and heart rate. Researchers gave one group of participants the flu virus as part of the experiment. Another group was given the virus that causes the common cold (called a rhinovirus). The researchers studied the data from the wearable devices. They looked at the relationship between the data and the onset, types, and length of symptoms caused by the infections. The researchers were able to tell if someone had the infection or not with 92% accuracy for flu and 88% accuracy for the common cold. They could also distinguish between mild and moderate infection 24 hours before symptoms began with 90% accuracy for flu and 89% accuracy for the common cold.

This study suggests that wearable devices can be used to identify people with acute viral respiratory infection before they feel any symptoms. Using these devices for infection screening may help limit the spread of these illnesses in the wider population.


Photo by Luke Chesser at Unsplash