The virus outbreak in Wuhan, China in late 2019 was in part detected by a large uptick of patients coming to the hospital with symptoms of a respiratory infection.
But Brew says this system fails to prevent the transmission of a virus like SARS-CoV-2 because by the time patients arrive at the hospital, they have likely already been infectious for a matter of days.
This realization led Brew to turn to a device that billions have in their pockets—a smartphone—to provide public health authorities with real-time symptomatic data from the community.
Brew and several colleagues founded Hyfe, a free phone application that uses artificial intelligence to detect and track users’ coughs, a hallmark of many respiratory conditions including COVID-19. People who are curious to monitor their cough frequency trends, say, if they have a respiratory condition or want to share these data with loved ones or medical professionals, can download Hyfe onto their smartphones.
As part of the study, participants grant researchers access to their hospital records and their Hyfe data to determine if a rise from a baseline level of coughing among the participants correlates to more diagnoses of respiratory conditions, including COVID-19.
If Hyfe can successfully demonstrate that its detection of a higher community incidence in coughing precedes more respiratory diagnoses in the clinic, he envisions users could then view a heat map of anonymized data showing which communities have the highest prevalence of coughing.