KEY POINTS

  • The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc in many countries worldwide
  • Total confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection is nearing the two-million mark
  • Health experts are beginning to wonder if coronavirus superspreaders exist

As the coronavirus pandemic nears the two million mark all over the world, health experts are asking why some people are more infectious compared to others. Scientists have also begun to ask about the possibility of the existence of superspreaders or those who eject virus in large quantities, making them highly likely to infect others.

Do Superspreaders Exist?

Scientists are inclined to believe that coronavirus superspreaders do seem to exist. A superspreader is a term used to describe a person who infects a great number of people. Such infection may be due to social habits or genetics. Researchers say those virus carriers who are in the center of what is being referred to as superspreading events can fire up and have accelerated epidemics.

Finding ways to pinpoint spreading events or prevent situations where such events can occur is vital. It is also important to identify those on the receiving end, such as those infected but unlikely to spread such infection.

Contact Tracing

Making a distinction between those considered more infectious and those who are likely to infect others is crucial in terms of the ease and speed in containment efforts. This is according to epidemiologist Dr. Jon Zelner of the University of Michigan.

If a person is classified as a superspreader, contact tracing is very vital. If the infected person is, however, the exact opposite, someone who, for one reason or another, does not spread the virus, contact tracing may be a wasted effort. Dr. Zelner said, “The tricky part is that we don’t necessarily know who those people are.”

A Link Between People

For Dr. Martina Morris, two factors are at play. According to Dr. Morris, a link must exist between people for the infection to be transmitted. She added, however, that a link “is necessary but not sufficient.” The second factor involves deciding on how infectious that person is. She said, “We almost never have independent data on those two things.”

Dr. Morris pointed out that it may be easy to falsely attribute several infections to a person. As a consequence, it may expose such individual to public attack, when, in fact, the spread is in no way related to the infectiousness of that person.

If you happen to be the first individual in a crowded room to become infected, and the disease happens to be easily spread, you will start looking like a superspreader. In fact, anyone inside that room, according to Dr. Morris, could have the same impact, you just happened to be first in line. Dr. Morris is an emeritus professor of sociology and statistics at the University of Washington.