Contraceptive app Natural Cycles, which has over 5 million registered users worldwide, has released an update that allows users to track possible coronavirus symptoms. The app already relies on users measuring their temperature every day, so it makes sense that it also facilitates the recording of potential COVID-19 symptoms—one of which is a fever.
The more information researchers can get on coronavirus, the more chance there is of slowing its spread. Natural Cycles hopes that, by allowing its scientists to analyze this anonymized data, they might be able to gather insights to better understand the spread and the effects of the virus around the world.
The Swedish tech company caused some controversy when its product became the first app to be approved as a medical device for contraception in 2017. Functioning as a non-hormonal contraception for women, users take their temperature under their tongue every day (using a thermometer sent to you when you sign up or a basal thermometer with two decimals, which is more precise and sensitive than a regular thermometer) as soon as they wake up. They input this data into the app, which then decides whether or not it's a "safe" day to have sex without condoms (that's if you're trying to avoid pregnancy). If it is safe, the app labels it a "green day" and you can go right ahead; if it's not safe, it's a "red day" and you'll need to use protection.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, Natural Cycles users have become "more diligent" in measuring their temperature every day.
Conversely, many women also use the app as a means of family planning. If they're trying to get pregnant, the app uses their temperature to determine when they're likely to be ovulating, and therefore when they'll have the highest chance of conceiving.
Natural Cycles has found that, since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, its users have become "more diligent" in measuring their temperature every day; last weekend saw 11% more users entering their temperature than the previous weekend. And this makes sense, considering that a fever is one of the key symptoms of the virus. Natural Cycles' technology is able to detect whether an individual is experiencing an unusually elevated body temperature, possibly before it reaches a fever level, which may help people to become aware of their potential COVID-19 infection before it properly manifests. This is especially important because coronavirus is known to have an "incubation period" of anywhere between a few days and two weeks, in which patients will not be displaying symptoms, but will still be infectious.
If someone is detected to have an elevated body temperature, the app will automatically exclude them from the algorithm it uses to determine the likelihood of conception—so at least you won't end up pregnant by accident even if you do have coronavirus.
In the new development, which is already available for Android users and will be coming soon to iOS, users will be able to input coronavirus-related information on the "add data" page of the Natural Cycles app. If they've had a test and have a definitive "yes" or "no" on whether they've got COVID-19, they can input that information. Alternatively (or in addition) users can track their own symptoms in real-time by selecting whether they are displaying various symptoms that are commonly associated with coronavirus. These include a dry cough, fatigue, sputum production, shortness of breath, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, headache, and diarrhea, and will continue to be expanded upon as experts learn more about the virus.
While this kind of record-keeping could be useful in helping Natural Cycles' researchers to draw gender-specific conclusions from this new, live data, the app reminds users that it is "in no way intended to replace a professional medical diagnosis or treatment."
Once symptoms have been entered into the app, Natural Cycles will then provide users with a resource that directs them to the instructions from their national or local public health authority if they have reason to believe they may have coronavirus.
The idea behind this update is similar to the new "Covid Symptom Tracker" app, created by researchers at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals, King's College London university, and nutrition advice start-up Zoe. The aim there is that users go in every day and share details about how they're feeling; either "healthy as normal" or "not feeling quite right".
With this data, researchers intend to help the National Health Service learn how fast the virus is spreading in a particular area, highlight high-risk parts of the country, better understand the symptoms (helping to distinguish between coronavirus symptoms and the common cold), and hopefully explain why some people develop only mild symptoms, while others become critically ill.
If you can, it's useful to share details of any symptoms (or not) that you're experiencing, to help experts learn as much as they can about this awful disease. Because the quicker they do that, the quicker we can beat it.
For more info on Natural Cycles, click here.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.