Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

From flu to coronavirus: Smart thermometers deployed to track the spread in real-time

Kinsa Health hopes the devices can track the spread of the illness more effectively than the CDC's current resources.

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A company developing smart, connected thermometers hopes that the devices will be able to track the spread of coronavirus more efficiently than our test methods allow. 

Based in San Francisco, California, Kinsa Health manufactures consumer and enterprise health products including thermometers suitable for oral, underarm, and rectal use. 

The thermometers connect to a mobile application via Bluetooth to give general guidance on a user's current temperature and whether or not they are showing signs of fever or illness. This information is also collected and aggregated into anonymized datasets that can be separated based on location. 

This feature, in particular, may be able to assist the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in tracking -- and potentially containing -- the novel coronavirus. 

Also known as COVID-19, the coronavirus has spread to 159 countries, causing widespread social isolation measures and lockdowns, economic disruption, and travel bans. At the time of writing, over 227,000 cases have been confirmed. 

Tracking the spread of the respiratory disease, however, is a challenge the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and governments around the globe are facing. 

At present, tracking is reliant on testing -- as and when they are performed -- and hospital reports. As a result, coronavirus maps are likely showing movement weeks behind reality. 

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However, as reported by the New York Times, Kinsa is potentially ahead of the curve and says it has been able to track COVID-19 in something close to real-time. 

Over one million Kinsa thermometers are in circulation. If a user feels unwell, they take their temperature, and any fevers recorded are then added to the anonymized data pool. 

The publication notes that for the past several years, Kinsa maps have predicted the spread of flu across the US with accuracy beyond the CDC's weekly FluView tracker

Sudden spikes in fevers detected by the thermometers, beyond what one expects from typical flu numbers, may reveal coronavirus cases instead. 

Clusters of sudden fever cases, organized by ZIP code, could then tell healthcare professionals where they should focus their testing efforts. 

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Last week, the data points collected by Kinsa indicated that South Florida was potentially a hotbed of coronavirus cases -- before disease monitors were aware of the situation -- and subsequent tests confirmed the accuracy of the technology.   

Demand for the thermometers has surged and Kinsa is now selling approximately 10,000 per day. Each device sold may help the US cope with the spread of the illness by contributing to hotspot maps and predictive models of where COVID-19 is likely to land next. 

A website, the US Health Weather Map, has now been set up based on Kinsa information. 

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"We are not stating that this data represents COVID-19 activity," the company says. "However, we would expect to pick up higher-than-anticipated levels of flu-like symptoms in our data in areas where the pandemic is affecting large numbers of people. Taken together with other data points, we believe this data may be a helpful early indicator of where and how quickly the virus is spreading."