News update on COVID risks, testing, more

Smart watch detects COVID infection

A new kind of smart watch may be able to tell if you become infected with COVID-19. University of Miami Miller School of Medicine researchers are testing whether a wristwatch can capture real-time data and alert wearers of subtle physiological changes that may indicate they have become infected with COVID-19.

The goal of the research is to prevent COVID-19 transmission in healthcare settings by letting wearers know that they may have been infected before clinical signs or symptoms of the virus start, according to Frank Penedo, who is an associate director for cancer survivorship and translational behavioral sciences at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of psychology and medicine at the Miller School of Medicine in Miami.

The wearable device employs an algorithm that captures early signs for respiratory infection. “The idea is to be able to pull biometric data such as temperature and heart rate together to see if there is a way to accurately predict seroconversion to COVID-19 prior to the development of clinical symptoms that otherwise might not be detected,” said Penedo. It is hoped that this type of early warning system could prompt wearers to get a COVID-19 test to confirm results from the device, then quarantine with less risk of spreading the virus.

Asthmatics found to be at no higher risk

Those living with asthma can take a big sigh of relief. New research is showing individuals with asthma had a 14% lower risk of getting COVID-19 and were significantly less likely to be hospitalized with the virus. George Institute for Global Health researchers in Australia analyzed data from 57 studies with an overall sample size of 587,280. Almost 350,000 people in the pool had been infected with COVID-19 from Asia, Europe and North and South America.

The results, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Asthma, show that just over seven in every 100 people who tested positive for COVID-19 also had asthma, compared to just over eight in 100 in the general population having the condition. There was no apparent difference in the risk of death from COVID-19 in people with asthma compared to those without.

“Chemical receptors in the lungs that the virus binds to are less active in people with a particular type of asthma and some studies suggest that inhaled corticosteroids, commonly used to treat asthma, can reduce their activity even further,” said study co-author Christine Jenkins, who is the head of The Institute’s Respiratory Program.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first spread across the world concerns were raised that people with asthma might be at a higher risk of becoming infected or of becoming sicker. Previous findings have shown that people with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma were reported to be at greater risk during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, caused by a virus with a similar structure.

Phone testing for COVID in minutes

COVID-19 can be diagnosed in 55 minutes or less with the help of programmed magnetic nanobeads and a diagnostic tool that plugs into an off-the-shelf cell phone, according to researchers at Rice University. Mechanical engineer Peter Lillehoj has developed a stamp-sized microfluidic chip that measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid (N) protein in blood from a standard finger prick. The nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19.

“What’s great about this device is that it doesn’t require a laboratory,” Lillehoj said. “You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use.”

The lab found that 55 minutes was an optimum amount of time for the microchip to sense the virus. Lillehoj said it would not be difficult to manufacture the microfluidic chips or to adapt them to new COVID-19 strains if and when that becomes necessary.