A new app could help researchers monitor the spread of the coronavirus25. March 2020
A new app could help researchers monitor the spread of the coronavirus
The data collected from more than 750,000 people could help us understand why people’s experience with the coronavirus varies so much.
A new app will help researchers better understand the coronavirus by tracking its distribution in real time. The app, called Covid Symptom Tracker, is already available in the UK and has been downloaded by over 750,000 people.
What is it good for? It was developed by King’s College London to monitor coronavirus symptoms in participants in a decade-long study of thousands of twins and their families to see if genes play a role. However, it has since been made available to the general public. The idea is that by collecting data from many people and linking symptoms to underlying health conditions, researchers can better understand how quickly the virus spreads in specific areas and who is most at risk. Importantly, it could help us understand why some people become dangerously ill with coronavirus while others only have a mild disease.
How does this work? Those who register are asked for their name, where they live, their height, age and weight, existing illnesses such as asthma or diabetes, and whether they are taking medication such as immunosuppressants or ibuprofen or are using a wheelchair. Participants are then asked whether they have had a coronavirus test, how they are currently feeling and whether they have symptoms such as coughing, headaches or breathing difficulties. Participants are asked to record the answers to the last three questions daily. The researchers who developed the app promise that the data will be “used exclusively for public health or academic research” and “not used or sold commercially.
Of course the app will only be useful if there are enough participants to draw meaningful conclusions. But with enough data, the researchers believe it could help provide an early warning of where symptoms are accumulating. It could be even more effective when combined with data from other sources, such as a recent Google survey commissioned by Carnegie Mellon University, or perhaps data from an app developed by the South Korean government that allows citizens to report their symptoms.