Subtle brain performance changes could predict infection risk

Researchers at the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan may have found a way to predict risk of infection using cognitive performance tests.

The study, published in Scientific Reports on Dec. 30, asked 18 healthy participants to take brain performance tests three times per day for three days before exposing them to a cold virus. The tests provided 18 measures of cognitive function, including reaction time, attention and rapid switching.

Cognitive variability accurately predicted how the immune system performed after exposure to a respiratory virus, researchers said.

"This is the first exposure study in humans to show that one's cognitive performance before exposure to a respiratory virus can predict the severity of the infection," Alfred Hero, PhD, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at the university and a corresponding author of the study, told Michigan News.

The researchers said smartphones could be used to identify times of heightened susceptibility to illness by monitoring cognitive indicators such as typing speed and accuracy.

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