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Testing for COVID with the sound of a cough? There’s an app for that

And it's right more often than rapid antigen tests

An Australian software developer claims to have created a smartphone app that can accurately diagnose COVID-19 by listening to a user's coughs.

ResApp Health is so confident in its tech that it announced the results [PDF] of a pilot clinical trial on the Australian Stock Exchange. So while the results have not been peer reviewed, they have been dangled before investors – who have every right to demand redress if they feel the information hurts their hip pockets.

We recall that an MIT team, for one at least, has already been through this, claiming in 2020 that their AI model was 98.5 per cent accurate when analyzing people's phone-recorded coughs for coronavirus.

Fast forward to this year, and over in Australia, ResApp said it trained and tested its machine-learning system on a dataset called Breathe Easy. It then trialed the code with 741 subjects recruited in the USA and India.

The results of the trial found the app achieved 92 percent sensitivity – the ability to detect a patient with a disease – and 80 percent specificity – the ability to identify patients who do not have a disease.

ResApp Health asserts that result is better than results produced by rapid antigen tests. If true, that means coughing at a smartphone could replace such tools.

ResApp Health plans to suggest the app for use "in settings where frequent COVID-19 testing is required, such as employee, healthcare worker and student screening, travel, sports, entertainment, and aged care." If the app is accepted, the company thinks it's also an opportunity to use smartphones' biometrics capabilities to tie results to individuals, and thereby improve security.

While medical authorities the world over need to sign off on the app before it can be widely used, ResApp Health has already won approval in Europe and Australia for an app named "ResAppDx" that's used to diagnose lower respiratory tract diseases such as croup, pneumonia, asthma/reactive airway disease exacerbation, and bronchiolitis.

The app is available for iOS and Android. It's free on both platforms – you won't need to cough up a cent.

Sorry about that.

The developer says the app performed consistently across a range of subgroups – including study arm and location, age, gender, and vaccination status. "While genomic sequencing was not available, analysis of the data over two time periods, one where Delta was the dominant variant and another where Omicron was dominant, demonstrated consistent performance," the company said.

The app did, however, perform less accurately in asymptomatic patients – but so do rapid antigen tests. And as the app was tested on only 14 asymptomatic patients, there's scope for further research. ®

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