Publication date: Sep 17, 2023
Considering sex as a biological variable in modern digital health solutions, we investigated sex-specific differences in the trajectory of four physiological parameters across a COVID-19 infection. A wearable medical device measured breathing rate, heart rate, heart rate variability, and wrist skin temperature in 1163 participants (mean age = 44.1 years, standard deviation [SD]=5.6; 667 [57%] females). Participants reported daily symptoms and confounders in a complementary app. A machine learning algorithm retrospectively ingested daily biophysical parameters to detect COVID-19 infections. COVID-19 serology samples were collected from all participants at baseline and follow-up. We analysed potential sex-specific differences in physiology and antibody titres using multilevel modelling and t-tests. Over 1.5 million hours of physiological data were recorded. During the symptomatic period of infection, men demonstrated larger increases in skin temperature, breathing rate and heart rate as well as larger decreases in heart rate variability than women. The COVID-19 infection detection algorithm performed similarly well for men and women. Our study belongs to the first research to provide evidence for differential physiological responses to COVID-19 between females and males, highlighting the potential of wearable technology to inform future precision medicine approaches. This work has received support from the Princely House of the Principality of Liechtenstein, the government of the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Hanela Foundation in Switzerland, and the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 101005177. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA.