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Smart thermometer by desi's company helps US fight Covid

By Anjuli Bhargava
June 25, 2021 09:00 IST
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As the pandemic enveloped various parts of the US, Kinsa's app alerted its team and wherever possible, the company made the data public. Between March 1 and November 1, 2020, the company captured close to 15 million fever readings and 1.7 million symptom inputs on its app.

Several researchers and The New York Times downloaded the company's data, which showed that it was in general three weeks ahead of the surge.

IMAGE: Kinsa developed a "smart thermometer" or a medical guidance system that starts with a thermometer that records fever and other mild symptoms and bridges the time lag between a person first feeling unwell and consulting a doctor. All photographs: Kind courtesy kinsahealth.com

Two weeks before Texas and Florida were struck by Covid-19 and well before the Center for Diseases Control in the United States anticipated it, the smart thermometer of tech firm Kinsa foretold the imminent outbreak.

 

This was when Inder Singh, 44, the Indian-origin founder and CEO of Kinsa, called the former New York state health commissioner and a couple of others in the thick of action and told them that the unusual spike in fever cases recorded in the two cities through his app could well be a sign of Covid-19.

It was early March 2020, and the two cities seemed relatively in the clear. Singh's warning was practically dismissed. But a fortnight later, coronavirus cases exploded in both Florida and Texas.

As the pandemic enveloped various parts of the country, Kinsa's app alerted its team and wherever possible, the company made the data public.

Between March 1 and November 1, 2020, the company captured close to 15 million fever readings and 1.7 million symptom inputs on its app.

Early detection is invaluable as it acts like a weather vane and helps the administration prepare for a sudden spate of cases and save lives.

Several researchers and The New York Times downloaded the company's data, which showed that it was in general three weeks ahead of the surge.

Since then, the company started working closely with several US states and cities.

In most  states, the distribution of the smart thermometers in low-income communities is being sponsored by donors or, in some cases, government grants.

Recently, Kinsa made a big breakthrough when it signed on a long-term agreement with New York City.

Within the next few weeks, it will distribute 100,000 smart thermometers across the city's schools.

The participation of schools and families is voluntary.

The long-term nature of the agreement allows the city to introduce the first illness detection initiative for all infectious diseases.

Although initially NYC was looking at the company's offering as a pandemic response, it decided to enter into a long-term agreement as an early warning system for any outbreak.

The Kinsa model would still not detect asymptomatic carriers and since it is voluntary, it misses those who opt out, but it can provide a warning for administrations before a crisis escalates.

IMAGE: Kinsa's Smart thermometer, shows the timeline of a patient's health.

How Kinsa started

Back in 2009, Singh -- who had dabbled in a few sectors, started a nonprofit and had had a long stint with the Clinton Health Access Initiative -- asked himself a question: how does one stop an infection from turning into an epidemic or a pandemic unless you understand its origin and timing and how fast it's spreading?

"The answer is you don't," he adds, something the world experienced with Covid-19.

The question then was how to detect, monitor and predict the spread of an infectious disease.

To do this, Kinsa developed a "smart thermometer" or a medical guidance system that starts with a thermometer (two products, priced $24.99 and $40, available at retail outlets in the US) that records fever and other mild symptoms and bridges the time lag between a person first feeling unwell and consulting a doctor.

"The current healthcare system records the illness when it sees a patient; we identify the patients a step before they reach the healthcare system," he argues.

By the time the person seeks formal care, she may have infected several others.

Even back then, it bothered Singh that seven of the top 12 killers of children are infectious diseases and 90 per cent of the world's population gets an infectious disease once a year.

"The sad fact is that the way the world tries to curb the spread of infectious diseases is with zero information on where, when and how it started," he says.

IMAGE: Kinsa's FLUency programme is now in over 4,000 US schools to help nurses get early insights into any illness spreading in schools. 

A long-term, wider lens

The company, founded in March 2012, grew nearly 5x in 2020 alone as its early data insights into the spread of illness were sought out by governments across the US.

Kinsa's FLUency programme is now in over 4,000 schools to help nurses get early insights into any illness spreading in schools.

In November, it also launched Kinsa HealthWeather.com, a website that allows a user to gauge local illness risks by entering the area pin code.

Kinsa has over 2.5 million thermometers spread out homogeneously to pinpoint illness trends across most parts of the US. It has grown from 39 employees to around 85 in a year and raised $40 million in funding since inception.

But Singh says his vision is to be a "global early detection and response system for infectious illness" by equipping people, communities and administrations with what's spreading to help stop it. He is exploring other geographies.

Kinsa is already in Canada, launching in Australia and the UK in the coming 12 months, and has its eyes set on India.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/ Rediff.com

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Anjuli Bhargava in New Delhi
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