In the latest coronavirus news, epidemiologists share new insights on how COVID-19 spreads. Read on to learn more.
In This Article:
Coronavirus News: Is COVID-19 a Superspreading Pandemic?
How Does the Coronavirus Spread?
COVID-19 usually spreads through respiratory droplets. An infected person can release these droplets by coughing, sneezing, or even just talking.
The respiratory droplets can enter other people if they end up landing on their mouth or nose. That’s why it can spread more quickly when an infected person is in close contact with other people.
Epidemiologists are scientists and public health professionals who study the pattern of disease. Naturally, many of them are currently preoccupied with trying to understand how and why COVID-19 spreads easily and sustainably in many areas around the world.
In the United States alone, approximately 2.5 million people have been infected, and over 125,000 people have died from the coronavirus. As different states begin to re-open and lift stay-at-home orders, it’s important to stay one step ahead of the virus.
How Do Epidemiologists Evaluate Pandemics?
To better understand how disease spreads from person to person, an epidemiologist will try to determine the reproductive number of diseases within specific areas.
What is the reproductive number? It’s an average estimate of how many people one sick person can infect.
Using data from around the world, public health professionals estimate COVID-19 to have a reproductive number between 2-3. However, averages can be misleading because it evens out the variability between infected people.
For example, if 4 out of 5 people don’t infect anyone else, but the 5th person infects 10 people, then the reproductive number is still a 2.
There also seems to be some seemingly contradicting accounts of how quickly the virus spreads. There are news reports of parties that lead to dozens of infections.
Italy, on the other hand, first reported the coronavirus outbreak in February. However, a recent examination of stored wastewater shows the virus was already present in Milan by mid-December.
There was a two-month gap between their outbreak and the arrival of the virus in their country. Epidemiologists believe that superspreaders can help explain these disparities.
What Is a Superspreader?
Superspreaders are individuals who are seemingly more contagious compared to others. With these latest findings, some epidemiologists hypothesize that a small number of people are responsible for infecting a large number of people in superspreading events.
In line with this hypothesis, they also believe that many infected people don’t pass on the virus at all. To determine if superspreaders are the primary movers in the spread, epidemiologists measure the pandemic’s dispersion parameter.
What is a dispersion parameter? It refers to the transmission variation between each infected person.
When there’s a flu outbreak, it usually occurs in different places, but it’s more or less the same size. With COVID-19, there’s a wide variation of outbreak sizes around the world.
A new preliminary study shows that about 80% of new infections can be traced to just 10% of infected people. Other researchers report similar findings.
In another study, researchers analyze trends from Georgia. They report that 20% of the transmission is linked to only 2% of infected people. They also identify many superspreading events.
Who Are Superspreaders?
If superspreaders are responsible for more infection, who are they? And how can you distinguish a superspreader from a non-superspreader?
Scientists are still trying to figure out the answers to these questions. However, doctors observe that certain viruses can multiply exponentially in some people, so they spread the pathogens more easily.
There are also contextual factors to consider. Some people are in contexts where they’re more likely to catch (and spread) a bug.
For instance, healthcare workers are at a higher risk of infection. They’re also in close contact with people all day, so they’re also more likely to spread it.
While biological factors may play a role, some epidemiologists believe that we should be paying more attention to circumstantial factors—especially superspreading events.
When Do Superspreading Events Usually Happen?
To determine when superspreading events usually happen, it’s essential to examine the transmission window. Research shows that transmission usually occurs within the first few days of the initial infection.
Transmission may happen even before symptoms emerge. When people are isolated during their transmission windows, they’re less likely to spread the virus.
Where Do Superspreading Events Usually Happen?
There are places where transmission is more likely to occur. A study from Japan links case clusters with the following locations:
- Daycare centers
- Health care facilities
- Nursing homes
- Karaoke boxes
- Concert venues
Generally, it’s easier to catch the virus in places with poor ventilation and in places where you’re in close contact with people.
What Are the Implications of A Superspreading Pandemic?
As different states transition towards re-opening, it’s vital to consider COVID-19’s superspreading potential. Even countries that seemed to have a handle on the pandemic have seen a resurgence of the virus because of superspreading events.
For instance, Singapore received worldwide praise for its early and orderly measures against COVID-19. When they recorded their first case in late January, they quickly began widespread testing and meticulous contact tracing, and it brought down their infection rates.
However, by late April, they were reporting the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia. The virus’s resurgence was linked to superspreading events within large and packed dormitories where most of their migrant workers lived.
Government officials shouldn’t get complacent, even in areas reporting a low number of new cases. Understanding the whos, whens, and hows of transmission can help governments devise better strategies to prevent the virus from spreading.
As the number of cases continues to rise in the United States, try to keep practicing prevention measures and avoid spending too much time in crowded areas. With Steam MD, you can stay on top of your health from the comfort of your home. Contact Stream MD today to learn more about their consultation options.
How are you staying safe during this pandemic? Let us know in the comments section below.