EVERY home should have a £25 monitor which can detect an early coronavirus warning sign, experts have claimed.
Pulse oximeters, which clip over the fingertip or ear, measure blood oxygen levels in the body to tell how well the heart and lungs are working.
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These readings could act as an indicator for people who are self-isolating to determine whether their condition has improved or deteriorated, scientists suggest.
It comes after a doctor in the US last week said that the number of patients who needed a ventilator could be reduced if people with symptoms, such as a fever or cough, monitored themselves.
Richard Levitan said the simple devices, which cost about £25, had helped to save the lives of two of his friends.
He told The New York Times: "Widespread pulse oximetry screening for Covid pneumonia — whether people check themselves on home devices or go to clinics or doctors’ offices — could provide an early warning system for the kinds of breathing problems associated with Covid pneumonia…
"Avoiding the use of a ventilator is a huge win for both patient and the health care system."
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Now, other experts have backed his calls for every household to have a pulse oximeter.
Lionel Tarassenko, professor of electrical engineering at Oxford Unviersity, told the Times: “It will provide an early warning.
“GPs, when they are assessing a patient over the phone, will ask, ‘What is your oxygen saturation from your oximeter finger pulse reading?’ I think it will be the best indicator we have of whether someone’s condition is deteriorating."
He added: “One of the issues has been people are dying at home alone. The 111 service has been overwhelmed by calls — but it is hard to pick up breathlessness over the phone.”
Prof Tarassenko, who has also been invited to sit on an NHS advisory group, said using the devices to monitor Covid-19 patients was likely to become an official recommendation at some point.
He said they could even be rolled out from this summer.
The expert has however shot down claims that an app could work in a similar way as the device to measure blood oxygen levels.
Along with his colleague Trisha Greenhalgh, he carried out a rapid evidence review of the technology, which has newly emerged.
Prof Tarassenko warned there was “no evidence that any smartphone technology is accurate for the measurement of blood oxygen saturation”, according to the Times.
Professor Babak Javid, a consultant in infectious diseases at Cambridge University, also said that measuring blood oxygen levels could help with early detection of those experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a low level of oxygen in the blood is a sign of Covid-19 – a symptom that could be measured with a pulse oximeter.
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A "danger sign" is if oxygen levels dip below 96 per cent, "especially on mild exercise such as walking up the stairs or going for a short walk".
"If it dips at that time, that's a real warning signal," he told the BBC.
He added: "One of the things I would say is, not to be a doctor at home as it were, but if one has one of these machines and one is concerned, to call 111 or your GP practice because certainly the NHS is willing to see people earlier than they are at the moment.
The matchbox-sized devices – which can be bought online or from shops like Argos – may be essential for those with serious lung problems.
Detection of low oxygen levels, early treatment and close monitoring also appeared to have helped Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Pulse oximeters work by emitting a beat of light through the finger to a sensor on the other side of the unit.
Oxygenated and unoxygenated blood absorbs light differently, so the device looks at the pattern of light to determine the amount of oxygen in the blood.
That reading is then displayed on its digital screen.
A number above 95 per cent is normal for a healthy person at rest.
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But for people with conditions that cause breathing difficulties – often categorised under the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – the figure can be much lower.
Those patients can use them to track changes in blood oxygen levels and determine whether or not their medication needs to be adjusted or even if they need to go to hospital.
The devices became common in GP practices around five years ago and more recently, people have started using them at home.
However, not all experts believe they will be helpful in coronavirus cases.
Dr Dan Bunstone, chief medical officer at Push Doctor’s, said: “The recommendation for individuals to use an oximeter at home should be issued with caution.
“These devices come with limitations if not used correctly, producing inaccurate readings and potentially causing unnecessary worry.
"Don’t forget that these are the same vital pieces of equipment that are currently being used by the NHS so we should be considerate to not to cause resource depletion.
"Some underlying health conditions such as COPD or high blood pressure can affect readings, therefore a ‘normal’ result can vary among different individuals.
"During a time where digital consultations are becoming the norm, these devices can be used under the guidance of a health care professional, to provide very useful clinical signs to support diagnosis.
"Looking after our own health has never felt more important, so it's vital we do it the right way and with support."
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