Fever tracking smart thermometers offer view of COVID-19 spread
Fever tracking smart thermometers are offering a helping hand in the battle against COVID-19. You can now view a real-time map that tracks influenza-like illness across the US.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading fast across the globe. Along with Europe, the United States is perhaps the hardest hit right now. Of the 950,000 registered with the disease, some 215,000 cases are in the country.
Just like all flu-like illnesses, some telltale symptoms of the condition include a high fever. Now a network of smart thermometers is offering unprecedented insights on how this is spreading across the US. They come from a company called Kinsa.
The outfit brought us the first FDA-cleared smart thermometer back in 2013. Since then Kinsa has continued to develop innovative technology. Its latest effort is QuickCare, a new FDA approved, wireless, smart thermometer for adults and children. It takes eight-second temperature readings at the press of a button – orally, under the arm, or rectally. So far, the company has sold around 1 million smart thermometers.
Kinsa’s smart thermometers work with an accompanying smartphone app which sends anonymised data to its centralized database. The aggregated data is used to put together a sort of a weather map of fever. The company says their network mirrors population density quite well – metro areas have higher penetration than rural areas.
In the past this data was used to monitor seasonal flu hot spots, now it is useful to monitor the spread of COVID-19. In its bid to offer a helping hand against the disease, the health tech company has made its US Health Weather map public. As shown above, the country-wide map shows an unusually high concentration on the Easts Coast and Florida.
Take a look at its map of illness in New York County, NY. You can switch between observed, atypical and trends views. Of most use is the atypical view as it flags up regions with unusually high instances of fever by comparing previous years’ data with real-time illness incidence.
It’s worth noting, the map tracks all influenza-like illness which result in high fever. But in the current circumstances, it can be used by the public and health officials to identify areas where COVID-19 levels are unusually high.
“..since March 1 we’ve seen a very strong correlation between cumulative atypical illness incidence and positive COVID-19 tests (at the state level) in terms of geographies affected and timing within affected geographies,” the company writes on its website.
“which suggests that our data provides a useful indication of where COVID-19 may likely be occurring.
There’s also a time series chart which compares Kinsa’s observations of the influenza-like illness level in orange and red with normal seasonal values, in blue. This offers some possible good news as it shows a country-wide decline over the past week or so.
Perhaps the social distancing measures are starting to work? We certainly hope so. The measures should also help push down instances of normal seasonal influenza-like illnesses so this may be contributing to the positive trend.
Unlike traditional methods, smart thermometers represent a more sanitary way to take someone’s temperature. The technology is relatively new and infers temperature from a portion of the thermal radiation emitted by the object being measured. Kinsa is only one of a number of companies offering such devices.
The data is certainly interesting to view. Hopefully it can increasingly be used to help public health systems more quickly identify severe flu outbreaks today and in the future.
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