University of Sydney Joins International Efforts to Determine If Wearables Can Detect COVID-19

·2-min read

As the COVID-19 pandemic completes a year in existence, there are several studies that dive into the usage of wearables to detect early infection. University of Sydney researchers have joined an international US-led effort called DETECT to discover if data from wearables like smartwatches and fitness trackers could provide an early indication of COVID-19 infection, as well as how pandemics change human life.

The study will determine if changes to an individual's heart rate, physical activity, or sleep tracked through wearable devices could provide an early indication of influzenza-like illness, including COVID-19. The research will also help determine how mental health and behaviours like exercise, diet, sleep, and alcohol intake vary during pandemics, as against a non-pandemic ideal world. The study is part of a research consortium initiated by Scripps Research, Fitbit and Stanford Medicine in the United States aimed at using data from Fitbit and other wearable devices to help detect, track and contain infectious diseases like COVID-19.

Australian project lead Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney said that the study builds on a growing body of research exploring the potential of personalised health data.

“Wearable devices objectively track so many elements of our daily lives – from our step count and heart rate to our sleep. What we aim to find out here is if these measures could be used for early detection of illnesses like the flu or COVID-19, potentially even before people are diagnosed,” Stamatakis said. “Research by our DETECT collaborators in the US has shown data from such devices can identify subtle changes, particularly to heart rate variation, that can improve prediction for influenza-like illness,” he said.

Fitbit will support the Australian arm of study by helping to drive consumer awareness of the research and offering its users the opportunity to participate in the study.

When participants choose to opt into the study they will have to download a MyDataHelps app, which will draw data from their wearable devices such as Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Garmin watch. These data will allow researchers to explore trends in heart rate, step count and sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants will also be asked to complete surveys throughout the study with questions regarding health, activity, lifestyle and mental health.

This will allow the researchers to also monitor potential changes in participant’s health behaviour, and physical and mental health status during the COVID-19 pandemic and other similar outbreaks.

The MyDataHelps app will also allow participants to receive the most recent public health policies and health events drawn from sources such as the Australian Government Department of Health.