Temperature data collected by wearable devices worn on the finger can be reliably used to detect the onset of fevers, a leading symptom of both COVID-19 and the flu.
A study was conducted of more than 65,000 people wearing a ring manufactured by Finnish startup Oura that records temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, and levels of activity. The goal of the study was to develop an algorithm that can predict the onset of symptoms such as fever, cough, and fatigue, which are characteristic of COVID-19. The algorithms could allow public health officials to act faster to contain the virus’ spread. If wearables could detect COVID-19 early, people could begin physical isolation practices and obtain testing to reduce the spread of the virus.
Wearables such as the Oura ring can collect temperature data continuously throughout the day and night, allowing researchers to measure people’s true temperature baselines and identify fever peaks more accurately. Temperature varies not only from person to person but also for the same person at different times of the day.
The study highlights the importance of collecting data continuously over long periods of time. The lack of continuous data is also why temperature spot checks are not effective for detecting COVID-19. These spot checks are the equivalent of catching a syllable per minute in a conversation, rather than whole sentences.
The study showed that fever onset often happened before subjects were reporting symptoms and even to those who never reported other symptoms. It supports the hypothesis that some feverlike events may go unreported or unnoticed without being truly asymptomatic. Wearables therefore may contribute to identifying rates of asymptomatic illness as opposed to unreported illness, which is of special importance in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The data collected has the potential to be linked with other datasets, making individual and societal scale models combinable to further understand the disease. In the future, researchers plan to expand their early detection methods to other infectious diseases such as the flu.