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Use your Fitbit to contribute to a study on predicting flu-like illnesses

Those that have a Fitbit with a heart rate sensor can enrol in a new study on using wearables to predict influenza-like illnesses.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

It comes from The Scripps Research Translational Institute, a nonprofit research facility founded in 2007. The outfit focuses on individualising healthcare by combining advances made in human genomics with wearable technology data. Fitbit has a long-standing partnership with the institute, and has collaborated on a number of research projects.

use your fitbit to contribute to a study on predicting flu like illnesses - Use your Fitbit to contribute to a study on predicting flu-like illnesses
MyDataHelps app

The latest one is on using activity tracker data to study flu-like illnesses. Scripps has recently published the “Harnessing wearable device data to improve state-level real-time surveillance of influenza-like illness in the USA: a population-based study” in Lancet Digital Health. This shows that Fitbits with a heart rate sensor can, indeed, be used to predict and follow the progress of influenza. The hope by Scripps is that such data can be used to help public health officials move more quickly to battle influenza outbreaks.

Resting heart rate in particular has been shown to be a strong indicator of the disease. This jives with our own experience which shows the onset of the common cold coincides with a spike in heart rate and increase in sleep. There are other studies, too, which show data from fitness wearables can be a more accurate way of alerting to outbreaks of viral illnesses than traditional methods.

Building on its research, Scripps has now developed an app for those living in the US. To join the DETECT study one simply needs to download the MyDataHelps app that can be found in both the App Store and Google Play. Register your details and you are good to go.

The app works seamlessly in the background drawing on heart rate, sleep and activity info from your Fitbit account. You will get a summary of your data each month and can choose to leave the study whenever you like.

There’s probably no better time than now to help in the battle against viral illness outbreaks. We are facing unprecedented times as the COVID-19 spreads around the world. The hope is that in the future this and other such studies allow us to be better equipped to deal with pandemics.

“In light of the ongoing flu season and the global pandemic of COVID-19, we see enormous opportunity to improve disease tracking for improved population health,” said Jennifer Radin, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Scripps Research Translational Institute who is leading the study.

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