With a global pandemic still ongoing and vaccines still in short supply, early detection of COVID-19 is key to treating the disease. Unfortunately, COVID-19 doesn’t immediately show symptoms, even when it’s infectious. That’s why a new study that suggests Apple Watches can detect COVID-19 before the onset of symptoms is so intriguing.
The study comes from Mount Sinai researchers, where several hundred healthcare workers wore an Apple Watch for eight hours a day. Each participant also answered daily surveys about their current symptoms through a custom app designed for the study. The large number of workers and the long periods should help get good consistent results along a broad spectrum, but the results need to be confirmed as with all studies.
But the study revealed several intriguing findings. The researchers kept a close watch on heart rate variability (HRV), which measures the changes in your heartbeat that can indicate autonomic nervous system imbalances. According to the researchers, subtle changes in HRV helped predict COVID-19 infections up to a week before a nasal swab testing.
That puts the timing squarely in a period when a person might not realize they are infected and could spread COVID-19 to others. Researchers also discovered that HRV returned to normal 7-14 days after diagnosis. Statistically, an infected patient’s HRV looks the same as an uninfected person’s. That would indicated that early monitoring even more important.
Early detection can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and lead to lifesaving treatment earlier in the process. And by using an Apple Watch (or other heart-rate tracking devices), doctors could even detect and diagnose the disease remotely, without a need for a trip to the hospital or doctor’s office. All of that is a massive win in fighting the pandemic.
Other similar studies are ongoing, such as the NBA’s use of Oura Rings in a similar manner, and that’s a good thing. One study isn’t enough to trust results; it’s always best when results are confirmed in independent follow up studies. But it’s a good sign for new ways to track and prevent the spread of the disease using everyday equipment people may already own.