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Fitness Tracker Data Show Longer Covid-19 Effects

Apple Watch and iPhone

(Dariusz Sankowski, Pixabay.

8 July 2021. Data collected from wearable activity trackers show extended cardiac effects in people with Covid-19 infections, in some cases for several months. A team from the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California report their findings in yesterday’s issue of JAMA Network Open, published by American Medical Association.

Researchers led by Scripps Research Institute epidemiologist Jennifer Radin are seeking insights into longer-term effects of Covid-19 infections from data readily collected on smart watches and fitness trackers. Scripps Research, with the digital health company CareEvolution, started the Detect study, short for Digital Engagement and Tracking for Early Control and Treatment, to see if data collected from wearable devices in real time can alert health authorities to viral disease outbreaks much earlier than current methods.

The Detect study uses CareEvolution’s MyDataHelps app to collect and report data from volunteers wearing activity trackers and smart watches made by Apple, Fitbit, and Garmin. Data compiled by the app’s iOS and Android versions, as reported by Science & Enterprise at the start of the study, include heart rate, activity levels, and sleep, with logs of respiratory symptoms, treatments received, and diagnostic test results.

Initial findings from the Detect study in October 2020 show data from the devices, when combined with symptom reports, can identify characteristic Covid-19 disease symptoms. Data from more than 30,500 participants indicate individuals testing positive for Covid-19, compared to those testing negative, are more likely to report stomach ache, fever and chills, fatigue, difficulty breathing, decrease in taste or smell, cough, and body aches.

More likely to experience heart rate variations

In the latest set of data, Radin and colleagues look into longer-term effects and recovery from Covid-19 infections reported by wearable devices. The new findings are compiled from 37,146 participants between March 2020 and January 2021. Of those individuals, 875 reported severe respiratory symptoms and underwent Covid-19 testing, with 234 participants testing positive and 641 testing negative. Individuals testing positive and negative had a comparable average age of 45 and about seven in 10 in each group were women.

Results show participants testing positive for Covid-19 are more likely to experience heart rate variations than participants testing negative. On average, those testing positive first show a slower than normal resting heart rate for nine to 15 days, compared to readings at the start of the study, followed by higher than normal heart rate for another 79 days. Activity levels, measured by numbers of steps and sleep quantity, returned to their pre-study levels after about a month — 32 and 24 days respectively.

A smaller number of participants however, 32 or 14 percent, need a much longer period to recover. Resting heart rates for these individuals remained at least five beats per minute higher than before the study for 133 days. Plus, these participants also experienced more characteristic Covid-19 symptoms early on, such as coughing, body aches, and shortness of breath.

“Our data suggest,” says Radin in a Scripps Institute statement, “that the severity of early symptoms and a larger initial resting-heart-rate response to Covid-19 may be a predictor of how long it takes for individuals to physiologically recover from this virus. In the future, with larger sample sizes and more comprehensive participant-reported outcomes, it will be possible to better understand why some people recover faster or differently than others.”

The Detect study is continuing and enrolling new participants. Investigators plan to follow-up on longer-term effects of Covid-19 infections and include other viral diseases, such as influenza.

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