Fitbits Capable of Detecting Lasting COVID-19 Health Effects

Image sourced from Reuters.

New research released on Wednesday is the latest to indicate that people infected with COVID-19 can continue to experience lingering effects of the illness after recovering and becoming uninfectious.

This latest study, based on data collected from the Fitbits of hundreds of users, found that it takes around two to three months for the elevated heart rates caused by the virus to return to normal in COVID-19 survivors. For some individuals this took even longer, reports Gizmodo.

This new research comes from a team of scientists from the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, US. The scientists began a project in March last year at the onset of the pandemic, to test whether data collected from wearables (specifically Fitbit devices) could predict the emergence of COVID-19. This initial test was dubbed the DETECT study.

Early data from the DETECT study (as well as other similar studies) is suggesting that wearable devices, along with self-reporting of possible symptoms, can be accurate in identifying COVID-19 infections without the need for nasal or throat swabbing.

What the Study Says

Published in JAMA Network Open, the new study is based on data from the previous DETECT study, and it focuses on what happens to users after their COVID-19 diagnoses.

The researchers now looked at data from 875 participants who reported symptoms of acute respiratory illness and were tested for COVID-19. Out of the initial 875, 234 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The researchers also kept track of the acute symptoms of the participants.

Participants with COVID-19 tended to experience a short drop in their resting heart rates after symptoms began manifesting, relative to normal heart rate baselines. This short drop was then followed by a sustained elevated heart rate.

Infected participants also performed less physical activity (gauged by their step counts) and slept less than they did before the infection. Compared to people with other respiratory infections, those with confirmed COVID-19 infections took longer to return to their baseline resting heart rates.

On average, it took 79 days for their heart rate to go back down, 32 days for their level of physical activity to return, and 24 days for their sleep quantity to climb back up. Researchers found that a small percentage of COVID-19 infected participants (13.7%) continued to experience an elevated resting heart rate for more than 133 days, or about 4,5 months.

“Lots of people who get covid end up getting autonomic dysfunction and a kind of ongoing inflammation, and this may adversely affect their body’s ability to regulate their pulse,” lead author Jennifer Radin, an epidemiologist with Scripps, is quoted by the New York Times.

Ongoing Research

The researchers plan to continue studying wearable data from patients after their initial bouts of COVID-19. Next, the researchers are to engage in the extensive tracking of long-term health problems participants may be having.

By Luis Monzon
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