Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused an ongoing pandemic affecting nearly every country globally, and demonstrated an exponential rise earlier this year. However, the full spectrum of clinical presentation is still being characterized, and has shown significant differences across patient subgroups. Therefore, in an effort to aid real-time epidemiology efforts, researchers have unveiled a mobile application called the COVID Symptom Tracker, launched within the Mongan Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, developed by King’s College and Zoe Global Ltd, according to an article published in Science.
The rapid pace of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic creates a critical challenge in outlining exposure data to help curate public health planning and clinical management. The COVID Symptom Tracker is a mobile application created by expert scientists to compile data on the research and epidemiology of COVID-19. Based on an established application used for personal nutrition studies, this application launched in the United Kingdom, on March 24, 2020, and in the United States on March 29, 2020. The app will allow users to track risk factors, symptoms, clinical outcomes, and hot spots for geographical areas. This tool is available at no cost.
In order to manage control and slow infection of COVID-19 the public must have access to vital and accurate information. This application will create a one stop location to gather the ongoing data that changes daily.
After downloading the COVID Symptom Tracker and providing consent, individuals are prompted to provide demographic and clinical information. Participants will receive continual queries about new or ongoing symptoms, test results, and their current level of self-quarantining; this is not limited to individuals who are symptomatic. Healthcare workers will offer information about the severity of their patient interactions, potential exposure, and usage of personal protective equipment (PPE). The app also allows individuals participating in ongoing epidemiologic studies and clinical trials to provide informed consent to link survey data from these studies directly to the app.
The COVID Symptom Tracker will collect data not only for long-term studies, but also for immediate public health use. These tools will help conjure vital insight into population dynamics of COVID-19, and will help identify populations with high symptom outbreaks. Data captured by the COVID Symptom Tracker may assist public health and government officials in reallocating resources, recognizing areas in need of more testing, and detect emerging hot spots earlier.
The original deployment of the app was in the United Kingdom and collected 1.6 million user samples within 5 days. This initial usage evidence confirmed the importance of the app and how it may continue to improve as the collection of data increases.
This approach does have limitations. Considering this is a mobile app, it relies on voluntary participation from communities and will not represent a randomized sample, as inherent of any epidemiologic study. However, this approach has the benefit of rapid deployment across a large cross-section of the population during an unprecedented health crisis. With time and continued use, the large number of participants will include a sufficient number of individuals within key subgroups and thus allow for adjustment for potential confounders.
“Our novel approach demonstrates critical proof-of-concept for rapid repurposing of existing data collection approaches to implement scalable real-time collection of population-level data during a fast-moving global health crisis and National Emergency,” concluded the study authors.
Drew D, Nguyen LH, Steves CJ, et al. Rapid implementation of mobile technology for real-time epidemiology of COVID-19 [published online May 5, 2020]. Science. doi:10.1126/science.abc0473