USF researchers working to find early warnings for severe COVID-19 illness

Posted at 11:20 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 10:59:34-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Researchers at the University of South Florida are working to identify the physiological response to COVID-19, in hopes of developing an early warning system for patients who may be at risk for severe illness.

Researchers explained their goal is to understand which physiological patterns may give an indicator of a more serious infection.

“We’ll be able to define how long people have these different abnormalities, their vital signs, their activity level, their heart so that we will know more about how to triage patients, characterize patients, tell them what to expect coming down the line on different days of their illness,” said Dr. Asa Oxner, an associate professor at USF and operations director of the TGH-USF Health COVID Clinic.

“What we intend to do is monitor a large enough sample population of people who have contracted the COVID virus but do not have otherwise some other secondary condition that would indicate they are at high risk and see if we can identify relative to their those outcomes which of the variables might give us an early indication that for a particular physiology you’re going sideways,” said Dr. Matthew Mullarkey, director of the USF Muma College of Business’s Doctor of Business Administration Program.

They are monitoring up to 150 COVID-19 patients with no underlying risk factors for up to a month after their diagnosis. The patients will wear a device from Shimmer Research Inc., partnering with USF on the study, to measure things like heart rate, oxygen, heart rhythm and activate levels.

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is likely to be with us for a while. By monitoring patients, we can direct healthcare resources to those who really need it and intervene in severe cases before they turn critical. This can be done remotely without bringing infectious patients to hospitals or doctors’ offices where they can infect other people. We are excited to work with the excellent team at USF, who bring world-class medical and AI expertise to this project,” the company stated.

Researchers said they’ll look at the data to see if there are the same signs in patients.

“We can look back on the ones who got worse, what was the first sign that they’re about to get worse and do they all have the same sign? If they did, that’s very very helpful for the people out in the community. We could have patients self-monitor that or we could have primary care doctors self-monitor that so that we would know who’s gonna get sick and we know early as possible so we can start changing things for them,” said Oxner.

“We’re hearing about sports teams, for example, where whole teams -- one or two members of the team -- contract the virus and maybe whole teams are at risk of contracting the virus. We would imagine that there’s a better world where those otherwise healthy young adults are given a wearable device that could continuously monitor and compare their physiologies to these identified archetypes that these archetypes that are gonna go sideways and they don’t go sideways for the same reason,” said Mullarkey.

The project is funded through the USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant.