A friend came home from a business trip to China on Friday. His kids (teens and tweens) were ready to hug and kiss him when he returned –as they usually do-, but when they heard his cough they fled to their rooms, slammed the doors and donned surgical masks.
Did dad bring the coronavirus home with him? Except for his wife, no one in his family was taking that chance.
Which got me thinking, what’s changed since the last epidemics of Ebola, avian flu and SARS…?
For one thing, cell phones and the Internet have become ubiquitous. Bad news travels fast, and there’s no keeping the kids in the dark.
On the other hand, maybe smartphones can help keep us safe. For example, I’m impressed by ResApp, an Australian company that helps doctors diagnose respiratory illnesses by analyzing the data in coughs. Is it asthma, COPD, pneumonia, or nothing serious? ResApp uses the smartphone to figure it out. (Here’s my interview with the company from 2016.)
The tool is designed to be used by healthcare professionals (probably to keep regulators from getting nervous about self-diagnosis) but it seems to me that patients could use the app themselves and just send the data over the web for confirmation, avoiding the possibility of infecting healthcare workers and other patients.
Kids are about to go back to school in Australia after summer vacation/fire season (remember they’re on the upside down part of the world), and everyone’s nervous that coronavirus will show up in the classroom.
I asked ResApp CEO Tony Keating CEO for his opinion. He said
The identification and isolation of patients with viruses such as this novel coronavirus is a critical public health step. Like SARS and MERS, 2019-nCoV causes pneumonia – an infection of one or both lungs, causing cough, difficulty breathing and/or fever. People with these symptoms can be identified (in places like airports), isolated, and sent for further molecular testing. However this screening is difficult, as not all patients with the virus may have a fever at the time and infrared thermometers are not 100% accurate. These symptoms are also indistinguishable from the usual winter illnesses such as influenza. New screening tests which are rapid, accurate and portable could improve screening, and potentially reduce the global spread of these viruses.
Sounds promising to me. Let’s hope these new solutions can come online soon.