Fitbits could be used to predict oncoming flu outbreaks

Information tracked by wearable sensors, such as Fitbits, could be used to improve flu surveillance and prevent outbreaks, according to a study published Jan. 16 in The Lancet.

The flu can elevate resting heart rate and sleep levels, data that can be collected by Fitbits. Researchers analyzed Fitbit sleep and heart rate data and compared it to flu population trends reported by the CDC. Data was taken from 47,249 individuals who wore a Fitbit for at least 60 days from March 1, 2016, to March 1, 2018, in California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania.    

The study found weekly changes in abnormal Fitbit data were associated with weekly changes in flu rates. Fitbit data improved flu predictions in all five states by 6.3 to 32.9 percent. 

Data from activity and physiological trackers could be used to improve real-time and geographically refined flu surveillance, study authors wrote, adding that the information could help enact timely action to prevent further flu transmission.

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