- Researchers at Duke University exposed 63 people to influenza or rhinovirus
- They then provided E4 bands to monitor for tell-tale warning signs of infection.
- Scientists had previously suggested that wristbands could be used to detect cases
Apple Watches, Fitbits and other ‘smart’ accessories can be used to detect if someone has a viral infection a few days before they become contagious, a study suggests.
All popular gadgets have the ability to monitor heart rate, temperature, electrical pulses on the skin and physical activity.
Scientists at Duke University in North Carolina say they have developed a way to use this data to diagnose someone with a cold or flu.
For their study, 63 people were given a fitness device known as an E4 band and then intentionally infected with a mild flu or the common cold.
Researchers were able to give a correct diagnosis 80 percent of the time, at least 12 hours before a person showed signs of illness.
Some patients did not begin to get sick until the gadget exposed them as potentially ill.
During the early stages of a viral infection, people’s heart rates accelerate and their bodies warm up.
The algorithm also checks how much sleep or physical activity a person is getting, to make sure those variables are not behind health changes.
The scientists said their method could be used to limit the early spread of infections like Covid and improve contact tracing.
Participants were asked to wear E4 bands that monitor heart rate, temperature, electrical pulses on the skin, and movement. This data was used to find out whether someone was going to fall ill. Each watch costs around $1,600 (£1,200)
In the study – published in the journal JAMA Network – participants were infected in hospitals in the UK and US.
For the influenza arm of research, 39 volunteers were exposed to the influenza strain H1N1 and isolated in a hospital for eight days.
They were monitored by wristbands from one day before to 11 days after being infected.
Experts say smart ring that measures your temperature can give an early warning of covid
A smart ring that continuously measures your temperature can help determine if you’re developing COVID – even if your symptoms are very subtle.
Experts from the University of California and MIT Lincoln Lab studied data from 50 people who had sensor rings and had covids before the study.
It was the first study to publish data from a project called TeamPredict – a study of more than 65,000 people wearing the Aura Ring made by a Finnish startup that records temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and activity levels.
They found that the temperature data from the ring could be used reliably to trace the onset of fever – a key symptom of COVID and the flu.
He cautioned that the study is a proof of concept with just 50 participants – adding that more data is needed to say it is a reliable tool for detecting the virus.
The study was published in December last year.
Some 31 participants developed H1N1 infection, which was predicted with 92 percent accuracy from 12 hours after infection.
For the rhinovirus arm of the study, 24 volunteers from the university campus were exposed to the virus, but were not isolated.
They were monitored using wristbands for four days before exposure after five days.
Some 18 participants developed an infection, which was observed up to 12 hours after being infected in 83 percent of cases.
Participants were asked to write down their symptoms, if any, twice a day.
The warning signs of H1N1 infection appeared on average 48 hours after exposure, and symptoms of a rhinovirus case appeared approximately 36 hours later.
Rhinovirus tests were conducted in 2015 and influenza tests in 2017, before the Covid outbreak began.
The E4 gadget costs $1,600 (£1,200) per piece.
For comparison, FitBit smartwatches start at $179.95 (£155.57) each and Apple watches cost $267 (£199).
Lead researcher Emilia Grzycz told MailOnline that they monitored movement data to determine how often someone was resting or falling asleep.
She said: ‘This may explain why someone had a higher heart rate on a particular day.
‘In most cases a high heart rate simply points to more activity, but a lack of activity during a high heart rate may indicate infection, for example.’
She said they did not use data on electrical activity on the skin to predict whether someone was infected.
Asked if the tool could control the outbreak, she said: ‘Something like this could potentially be a screening tool to identify users who may be pre-symptomatically ill and/or users warning that their illness could be serious.
‘Identifying’ these individuals can help with early quarantine and allocating resources/therapeutic drugs earlier, which is when they are most effective.
‘The wearable will most likely be linked to an app, and can be used in conjunction with contact tracing.’
The scientists say in their paper: ‘The use of this technology will support early intervention to limit the pre-symptomatic spread of viral respiratory infections, which is timely in the COVID era.’
Previous research in 2017 on eight people found that an app could give users up to half a day’s warning that they were infected.
Project lead geneticist Professor Michael Snyder said: ‘We found that as people get sick, their heart rate and skin temperature increase.’
Professor Snyder said early warnings could help people plan better in the event of an illness.
He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘You can look at your monitor and it’ll say, “I think you’ve got something – maybe you shouldn’t go out dancing tonight. Stay home and try chicken soup instead.” Take it.”
Other benefits may include early warning for elderly people or people with chronic health problems such as diabetes.