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Phone App Tracking Covid-19 Symptom Reports

Phone user


31 Mar. 2020. A smartphone app is collecting individual reports about Covid-19 symptoms and other health conditions to provide earlier warnings of outbreaks to health authorities. The Covid Symptom Tracker is a product of labs at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Stanford University in California, King’s College London in the U.K., and the food science company Zoe Global Ltd. in Boston and London.

A continuing problem of the quickly spreading Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in the U.S., is the lack of widespread testing to find infected individuals with at most mild symptoms. The Covid Symptom Tracker aims to identify people early on with possible Covid-19 infections, and locate clusters of Covid-19 cases indicating potential new outbreak hot spots. The project is led by Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and cancer researcher at Mass. General and Harvard School of Public Health, with Christopher Gardner of Stanford University medical school, and epidemiology professor Tim Spector at Kings College London.

The Covid Symptom Tracker app was developed by Zoe, a nutritional science company that collects data from blood tests and glucose monitors to track metabolic responses to various food inputs, including glucose and fat levels in the blood. Spector is a founder of Zoe, with Chan and Gardner contributing their research findings to the company. Zoe’s nutritional and test data are used to produce algorithms that predict individual responses to different foods, with peer-reviewed findings presented last year at two scientific meetings.

The new app is in part a response to the burgeoning Covid-19 pandemic that combines the experience and facilities of the researchers. Users who download the app from the Apple or Android stores are asked to give a summary of their overall medical condition, then answer a few more questions each day about their health. The researchers believe there are more symptoms to Covid-19 beyond the coughing, fever, and breathing problems mentioned most often. Other symptoms including headaches, muscle pains, loss of smell or taste, and diarrhea are also being reported by some patients.

The advocacy and fund-raising group Stand-Up to Cancer asked the researchers to add questions for cancer patients and survivors using the app. People receiving cancer treatments are at a higher risk of getting a Covid-19 infections, according to data from China, where the pandemic first appeared.

The app is available in the U.K., where some 1.5 million users already downloaded it, and now in the U.S. In addition, the Nurses’ Health Study with more than 275,000 participants in the U.S. and Canada, plans to use the app to track Covid-19 symptoms from nursing professionals, among the front-line health care workers confronting the pandemic. The Nurses’ Health Study, now in its third iteration, is a continuing study that began in 1976. Non-identified data will also be available to other researchers, with zip code level data provided to public health authorities to help spot future Covid-19 hot spots.

Chan notes in a Stand Up to Cancer statement that because of the lack of widespread Covid-19 testing, “This may be a better way to find out where hot spots of spread are, new symptoms to look out for, and use as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators and medical equipment, and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks.” Chan adds, “By also tracking in real-time the experience of health care workers, we can do a better job of understanding how to protect our first responders to this crisis.”

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