Your smartwatch could detect if you have Omicron

YOUR smartwatch could tell you if you have Omicron even before you develop symptoms.

Scientists have noticed changes in heart rate in response to infection – and most wearables track this every day.

You could one day use your wearable health tracker to detect Covid before you get sick


You could one day use your wearable health tracker to detect Covid before you get sickCredit: Alamy

It could warn someone that they could be infected with Covid in the days before their symptoms start, thus preventing the virus from spreading further.

A University of Michigan study looked at the heart rate data of more than 100 college students between 2019 and 2021, when different strains of Covid circulated.

Most wore Fitbits, which are among the most popular wearables used by millions.

Participants included those who reported a Covid-positive test and had portable data from 50 days before symptom onset to 14 days after.

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The researchers found that various factors had changed leading up to and over the course of a person’s Covid illness.

Daily baseline heart rate tended to increase at or before the first signs of Covid, making it a possible warning sign of infection.

Researchers suspect heart rate spikes due to fever or increased anxiety, specifically a stress-related hormone called adenosine.

An altered resting heart rate is known to be a sign that the body’s immune system is ramping up in response to a pathogen.

“Heart rate increase per step” increased after symptoms and was significantly higher with cough.

This is a measure of cardiopulmonary dysfunction — any condition that affects the heart and lungs.

‘Circadian phase uncertainty’ also increased around the onset of Covid symptoms.

The circadian rhythm is the body’s internal clock that determines when you are awake and when you are asleep over a roughly 24-hour cycle.

With the uncertainty of the circadian phase, the body is less able to keep in step.

The research team said an inconsistency in the circadian component of the heart rate rhythm could correspond to early signs of infection.

Researchers hope an algorithm that detects changes in heart rate compared to a person’s normal rate could help detect Covid cases more quickly.

Mathematics professor Daniel Forger said: “We found that Covid dampens biological timing signals, alters your heart rate’s response to activity, alters baseline heart rate and causes stress signals.

“What we realized was that knowledge of physiology, how the body works, and math can help us glean more information from these wearables.”

Previous research teams that achieved the same results claim that wearable fitness trackers could help end pandemics.

Researchers from Stanford University, California, also collected data from 106 people wearing Fitbits.

They developed an algorithm that could detect heart rate abnormalities in 56 percent of Covid patients before their illness began and in 36 percent two days after.

Her heart rate started changing seven before the onset of the disease.

If a way to use these measurements can be refined for real-world use, the team said, it would “reduce transmission and end the pandemic.”

Previously, US researchers found that the Oura ring can detect the coronavirus with 90 percent accuracy three days before symptoms appear.

Despite several studies drawing such conclusions about wearables, it’s clear that more work needs to be done before this becomes a feature of Fitbits and other devices. Your smartwatch could detect if you have Omicron

Sarah Y. Kim

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