Oura study shows its smart ring can detect the earliest fevers linked to COVID-19

A digital early warning system could help urge people to isolate themselves while they may be at risk of spreading viruses and seek testing and proper care upon confirmation of an infection. (Oura)

A proof-of-concept study funded by smart ring maker Oura found its finger-worn sensor could reliably detect an oncoming fever before a person feels it set in. 

Researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), UC San Francisco and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said the consumer device and wearables like it could be used as an early warning system for spotting a major symptom of COVID-19, the flu and other infections.

The data were gathered from a small group of 50 participants who had reported contracting COVID-19 and are the first to be published out of a larger study of more than 65,000 people wearing the Oura ring.

That study aims to help develop an algorithm capable of accurately predicting the fevers, cough and fatigue that have become hallmarks of the pandemic by continuously recording a person’s temperature, pulse, respiratory rate and activity. The early results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"This isn't just a science problem, it's a social problem," said the paper’s corresponding author, Benjamin Smarr, a bioengineering professor at UCSD. "With wearable devices that can measure temperature, we can begin to envision a public COVID early alert system."

That program could help urge people to isolate themselves while they may be at risk of spreading the virus and seek testing and proper care upon confirmation of an infection.

After combing through the sensor data, researchers found that fevers in 38 of the 50 participants began well before they described any symptoms, as well as in those who did not report feeling anything at all.

"This raises the question of how many asymptomatic cases are truly asymptomatic and how many might just be unnoticed or unreported," Smarr said. "By using wearable technology, we're able to query the body directly."

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The 50 study participants owned Oura rings and had COVID-19 before joining the study. They provided symptom summaries for their illnesses and gave researchers retrospective access to their data.

Oura has also provided rings to nearly 3,400 U.S. healthcare workers, as well as players within the "NBA Bubble," and has worked to enroll its existing users. The 65,000-person observational study has closed, and UC researchers are currently preparing the data for publication.