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How an Apple Watch Detects COVID-19 a Week Before Nasal-Swab Test

February 09, 2021

Minor heart-rate fluctuations detected by an Apple Watch predicted a COVID-19 infection up to seven days before a conventional nasal-swab test, according to a new study published in the Journal of Internet Research.

The Warrior Watch Study, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai in New York, monitored several hundred healthcare workers outfitted with an Apple Watch and an associated iPhone app last year between April and September. The participants monitored heart rate variability, a nervous system function identifiable by the watch, and also reported potential COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, chills, body aches or loss of taste or smell.

This routine reliably revealed COVID-19 up to a week before tests confirmed the diagnosis.

Already, cardiologists have been using smartwatches to track incidences of atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular heart rate. Symptoms include lightheadedness, shortness of breath, chest pain and extreme fatigue.

“The technology is very exciting,” said Dr. Sumeet Pawar, a cardiologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Heart & Vascular Institute, who practices in Mystic and Westerly, R.I. “Smartwatches, which track your heart rate, can detect issues like a racing heart or palpitations. A patient can discover through their smartwatch that they have a condition, including a potentially serious one like AFib.”

As the Mount Sinai study continues, researchers say early detection using a smartwatch can help isolate anyone infected with COVID-19, allow early treatment as needed and help minimize the spread of the virus.