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Apple Watch could detect Covid-19 days before symptoms show – study

If you’re wearing an Apple Watch – or another wearable offering reliable heart rate variability (HRV) measurements – there’s a chance it’ll detect possible Covid-19 days before symptoms emerge, according to a new study.

Researches at Mount Sinai University have determined that the wearer’s HRV data showed significant changes a week before they tested positive for the coronavirus.

Heart rate variability notes the difference in time between heartbeats, rather than the heart rate itself. So if you’re fighting illness, or have a hangover for example, the HRV measurements will be much lower. If you’re in fine fettle, you’ll have a high HRV.

“The watch showed significant changes in HRV metrics up to seven days before individuals had a positive nasal swab confirming COVID-19 infection,” the study says.

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If the data can be harnessed in time, the researchers behind the Warrior Watch study say it could be a crucial tool in the fight against the pandemic. If users notice the outlying HRV indicators early enough, they could self isolate earlier and reduce the risk of transmission among family, colleagues and the general public, the study claims.

“We already knew that heart rate variability markers change as inflammation develops in the body, and Covid is an incredibly inflammatory event,” Rob Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine told CBS News. “It allows us to predict that people are infected before they know it.”

“Right now, we rely on people saying they’re sick and not feeling well, but wearing an Apple Watch doesn’t require any active user input and can identify people who might be asymptomatic. It’s a way to better control infectious diseases.”

Apple is aware of the study, but didn’t participate, the report says. Given the knowledge, it’s plausible Apple could seek to proactively warn users if their HRV drops far below the standard level within watchOS. It’s also plausible that other wearable manufacturers could adopt the practice too.

The study comes following observations from the makers of the Whoop Strap wearable. The device and app now measures the user’s respiratory rate, with Covid some Covid-19 sufferers showing significant increases at the onset of the illness.

“COVID-19 is a lower respiratory tract infection. The infected cells are the alveoli, the point of contact in your lungs to your blood. As they get damaged, your ability to get oxygen into the blood and get carbon dioxide out becomes less efficient. In order to compensate, you have to take more breaths,” the company says in a blog post.

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