Skip to main content

Detecting corona outbreaks with fitness data

May 14, 2020 // With a new fitness tracker app, corona hotspots should be found more quickly. A research team led by Prof. Dr. Dirk Brockmann is evaluating donated fitness data to create a "fever chart for Germany"

Dirk Brockmann is professor at the HU Berlin and member at the IRI Life Sciences. He leads the research department "Epidemiological Modeling of Infectious Diseases" at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and pioneered the field of computational epidemiology with the development of large-scale computational frameworks for the description and prediction of disease dynamics on large geographical scales.

During the Corona pandemic he was significantly involved in the development of the Corona data donation app of the RKI. According to Brockmann in a video interview with Hans-Christoph Keller, press spokesman of the HU Berlin, the idea for the data donation goes back to the beginning of March. At that time there were still very few case numbers in Germany, but a strong increase had already been expected.

Resting pulse gives a hint if a person is likely to have fever

Brockmann says, it is not necessarily known from reported cases how many asymptomatic cases exist (i.e. how many people are infectious).

He considers it very important to determine this number of unreported cases so that one can better understand the dynamics of this pandemic in a country.

So the idea was born to develop a method through which an increase in people affected by the Corona virus could be traced.

Resting pulse was considered the most useful parameter in this regard. It is easy to measure through existing fitness devices like health watches and can hence easily be fed into an app which in turn would feed the model behind it.

The resting pulse gives a hint if a person is likely to have fever, which in turn is one indicator for COVID-19.

A fever chart should help to quickly identify new hotspots

According to epidemiologist Brockmann, the idea is to calculate a fever chart for Germany in the medium term based on donated data. The chart will be updated daily and shows where there is more fever than one would expect. This is "an indication that there might be a new hotspot in certain places," says Brockmann. This is particularly important in the current phase of relaxing the lockdown regulations.

As stated in "Der Corona-Datenspende Blog" (website on which Brockmann's team publishes updates and results regarding the project status) so far more than half a million citizens donate their data. It further says, a scientific project in which citizens and scientists work together on such a scale is truly unique.

More information (in German only):

"Three questions - three answers" ("Drei Fragen – Drei Antworten") with Prof. Dr. Dirk Brockmann