With over 6.600 confirmed cases and 300 deaths, the coronavirus outbreak is moving fast in the UK, now under lockdown for three weeks by government orders. This means people will be only allowed to exit their homes to buy groceries to avoid the spread of the virus.
Kings College University in London launched a new app that tracks symptoms related to novel coronavirus, allowing anyone to self-report daily. The app will help researchers identify how fast is the virus spreading in different areas, know which areas are the riskiest, and detect who is most at risk from the diseases.
The university selected 5,000 twins and their families across the UK to first try the app, which will record daily information such as their temperature, tiredness, and symptoms that could indicate the disease. Those who show signs of COVID-19 will receive a home testing kit to check if they have become infected with the coronavirus.
By comparing genetically identical twins with non-identical twins, researchers hope to separate the effects of genes from environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle, previous illnesses and infections, and the microbes within the gut. Samples from the twin group will also be used to create a biobank for future projects.
The data obtained from the trial, researchers argue, will help to obtain relevant information regarding the symptoms and progression of coronavirus in different people, also helping understand why some go on to develop more severe or fatal cases while others have only mild symptoms.
The trial and the app will be useful to distinguish mild coronavirus symptoms from seasonal coughs and colds, which may be leading people to unnecessarily self-isolate when they aren’t infected or inadvertently go out and spread the disease when they are.
Professor Tim Spector said: “These are worrying times for everyone. Our twins are fantastically committed, enthusiastic health research participants who have already been studied in unprecedented detail, putting us in a unique position to provide vital answers to support the global fight against COVID-19.”
The monitoring app, free of charge, was developed in partnership between King’s College and health data science company ZOE. It will be available to the health staff and the general public who wish to contribute to the research. At the same time, it will also be used by other large population studies in the UK and the US.
Similar apps are being used in many countries as a way to spread the coronavirus outbreak. For example, South Korea developed an app that allows those who have been ordered not to leave home to stay in contact with caseworkers and report on their progress.