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App could help diagnose pneumonia

Researchers at ETH Zurich are working on an app that would help identify pneumonia early on. It is currently being tested in remote villages in Peru, where pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in children.

Researchers at ETH Zurich are working on an app that would help identify pneumonia.

Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich are collaborating with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) and Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia on a new mobile health technology. Together, they are developing an app that will assist medical staff in diagnosing pneumonia.

Breathing rate is an important diagnostic marker when identifying pneumonia in children. In small children, a normal breathing rate is between 20 and 40 breaths per minute, and it is usually measured by observing how many times a child’s chest rises and falls in the space of a minute. “However, people often lose count,” Walter Karlen, an assistant professor at ETH Zurich, said in an article.

The app overcomes this problem by taking care of the counting. The user need only tap the screen each time they see the child breathe. They keep tapping until the app can determine a reliable average value. It is even possible to store the results from various days and compare them at a later date.

The app is now being tested in remote villages in northern Peru, where pneumonia is one of the most common causes of death in children. But the end goal is to expand the app functions. “The more indicators we can collect in addition to breathing rate, the more reliable the diagnosis,” said Karlen.

The researchers are now exploring if it is possible to integrate blood oxygenation measurements within the app. Low oxygen saturation in the blood is a good indicator of severe pneumonia, and it is measured with an instrument known as a pulse oximeter. A sensor attached to the finger uses infrared light to measure the levels of oxygen in the blood.

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