New collaboration between Uppsala and Lund in fight against COVID-19

Photograph: The logotype for the project

The COVID Symptom Study is a research project about COVID-19 initiated by Lund University in the spring 2020. The purpose with the research is to continually map the spread of the infection in Sweden and study risk factors for serious complications. Lund University and Uppsala University have now signed a partnership contract to run the research project together.

“We have participated from the beginning in the work with planning the study and interpreting the results, but now with our formal partnership agreement beginning on 20 July, we will focus on certain specific research projects where we can also conduct the actual analyses,” says Tove Fall, professor at the Department of Medical Sciences and responsible for the research group at Uppsala University.

The purpose of the study is to map in real time the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Sweden and to produce scientific data about risk factors for developing serious complications. The mobile app COVID Symptom Study was launched in Sweden on 29 April, and today it collects information from over 186,000 volunteer adult participants throughout Sweden.

“Reporting symptom via the app is a cost-effect way of monitoring the development of illness. Based on the symptoms reported by the users, we calculate the percentage of infected people in each postal delivery zone in Sweden,” says Fall.

Both international and national collaboration

The app has been developed by ZOE Global Ltd in the United Kingdom in collaboration with researchers at King’s College London and Guy’s Hospital and St Thomas Hospital in London. ZOE maintains and operates the app and shares the data with Lund University. In addition to the United Kingdom and Sweden, the app has been launched in the United States, and, combined, over four million people use the app in these three countries. This means that the researchers will also be able to compare data from these three countries in future analyses of infection patterns and risk factors.

The national partnership agreement between the universities in Uppsala and Lund involves such areas as conducting a comparative analysis between data from this study and other surveys of COVID-19 at the society level, such as data from the Swedish Public Health Agency’s and the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare’s public statistics, weather data from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI) and mobile data made public by Google and Swedish mobile operator Telia. Other plans include analyses of differences between women and men with COVID-19 and analyses of risk factors for and symptoms of COVID-19 among health and medical care personnel.

“Data from the COVID Symptom Study app has already made it possible for us to follow trends in infections over time and location in Sweden. Now we are looking forward to working with Lund University to continue to drive the research forward. We will work intensively with creating as complete a picture as possible of the COVID-19 epidemic in Sweden,” says Beatrice Kennedy, post doc in medical epidemiology at Uppsala University and a resident physician at Uppsala University Hospital.

Useful data for current and future analyses

An overarching goal with the study is to understand how well symptom reporting represents a possible later increase in load on the medical care system in Sweden and how to identify new geographical clusters of the infection.

“We hope that the results will contribute to even better use of symptom data, for example, in regional efforts to respond to new major outbreaks. In the research project, we will also learn more about when symptom reporting data works well and less well, which can be very helpful in future COVID-19 research, but also when we want to study other types of illnesses in the future,” explains Tove Fall.

The data collection is ongoing and will continue as long as COVID-19 spreads in Sweden.

    Taking part in the COVID Symptom Study

    • Anyone over 18 years of age in Sweden can choose to join the study and, after informed consent, begin using the app.
    • The app is available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
    • The first time participants use the app, they fill in a short health survey, where they answer questions about age, sex, height, weight, pre-existing conditions, lung diseases, heart disease and current medications.
    • Participants are then encouraged through (optional) push notifications to report how they feel daily.
    • Medical personnel can also update information on exposure to the infection at their workplaces.
    • The study participants report their postal code so that researchers can determine their approximate geographic position, but no Bluetooth or GPS data are collected and the participants’ movements are not registered.
    • The study has been approved by the Ethical Review Authority.

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