Aug 7, 2021 - Health

Exclusive: New data hub to forecast infectious disease outbreaks

Illustration of smart thermometer

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo courtesy of Kinsa

Kinsa, a startup that makes and distributes internet-connected smart thermometers, is developing a data hub that can provide highly specific forecasts about infectious disease outbreaks, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Days matter when it comes to heading off a new outbreak or surge, and better forecasting models can help policymakers act to stop disease disasters before they're out of control.

How it works: Kinsa's millions of smart thermometers give the company what founder and CEO Inder Singh calls "highly sensitive data about where and when outbreaks are occurring, and how fast they're spreading," weeks before cases start to show up in doctor's offices and hospitals.

  • Yes, but: Kinsa's existing model "is not super specific," Singh says. While some predictions can be made if fevers start to spike outside normal cold or flu seasons — as was the case when Kinsa picked up rising fevers in March 2020 — "it doesn't say 'this is the flu,' or 'this is COVID.'"

What's new: Kinsa is building an updated data hub that will be able to take data on fevers and symptoms from its smart thermometers and app and pair that with broader health data about what's going on in a community.

  • This will include COVID-19 vaccination and hospitalization rates, genetic epidemiology of viruses in circulation, mobility data, stay-at-home orders — even information about the demand for cold and flu medication.
  • Put all that together, and you can create a prediction model that is both highly sensitive to emerging outbreaks and "highly specific about differentiating between illnesses," Singh says.

What to watch: Kinsa is already picking up on an unusual rise over the past month in influenza-like illness among 2- to 9-year-olds, which is 23% above normal for this time period and could represent COVID, flu, colds or something else.

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