Evidation launches digital flu monitoring program, tracking steps to find infections

The health data company Evidation is launching a monitoring program to track potential cases of influenza, as the U.S. and northern hemisphere prepares for a particularly early and aggressive flu season. 

The company aims to cast a digital net to catch signs of the disease by collecting information from wearable devices and self-reported symptoms. Using machine learning algorithms, the FluSmart program will inform participating users when early changes in their activity levels may correspond with an oncoming infection.

“We have been studying and characterizing influenza-like illness using wearables since 2017, and FluSmart makes this expertise actionable for individuals,” Christine Lemke, Evidation’s co-founder and co-CEO, said in a release. The company said that more than 90,000 people have signed up for the program so far through the Evidation app.

Earlier this year, the former Fierce 15 honoree published a study that took a closer look at step-tracker data minute-by-minute from more than 15,000 people who reported flu-like symptoms during the 2018-2019 season, before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study’s primary aim was to track the number of steps lost during the four days leading up to the onset of symptoms and then followed changes in the user’s activity for 11 days after that. 

Though it’s well-known that people tend to move less when they have the flu, the researchers were able to come to an exact number: they found that people lost a total of 4,437 steps on average during the time they reported symptoms. 

Multiply that by a nationwide flu season, and the researchers estimated an overall reduction in mobility of 255.2 billion steps—equivalent to 15% of the active U.S. population becoming completely immobilized for an entire day. Their results were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

For this coming fall and winter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the 2022 season is already on track to be the worst the U.S. has seen for more than a decade. 

The pace of hospitalized cases at this earlier-than-usual point in the year is higher than recorded rates dating back to the 2011-2012 flu season, according to the CDC. Though influenza infections dipped during the COVID pandemic—during two years of mask wearing and social distancing efforts—both that bug and respiratory syncytial virus have seen surges in recent reports. 

The CDC estimates that so far this season, there have been at least 880,000 flu cases, 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 deaths from the flu, including the first recorded pediatric death this past week.