June 30, 2020
Majority Of People Carrying The Coronavirus Don't Spread It To Others, Research Shows

The vast majority of people who are carrying the novel coronavirus don't spread it to other people, The New York Times reported. Rather, it's the few people who spread it to multiple others -- the so-called "superspreaders" -- that are responsible for most of the virus' spread. These superspreaders are the people who concern many health officials the most.

Epidemiologist Ben Althouse compared the spread of the coronavirus to starting a fire. A person could throw a match at a pile of kindling, and it might not start. A second match and a third match could be thrown, and it still might not start. Then a fourth match hits just the right spot, and now there's a fire.

As an example of this concept, many scientists have pointed to the differences in the way the novel coronavirus spread in Italy versus how it is spreading in the United States.

Looking at stored wastewater samples, scientists have determined that the virus was present in two Italian cities as early as December 18 -- months before the severity of the pandemic became fully known. And yet at the time, Italian hospitals weren't filled with dying COVID-19 patients as they would be months later. By comparison, at a May 30 birthday party in Texas, one man reportedly infected 18 of his friends and family members with the virus: a so-called "superspreader event."

"You can really go from thinking you've got things under control to having an out-of-control outbreak in a matter of a week," said James Lloyd-Smith, a UCLA disease ecologist.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - JUNE 30: An employee of Contogene, a medical testing company, tests a man for Covid-19 infection at an on-site testing and analysis station set up for travellers at Frankfurt Airport during the coronavirus pandemic on June 30, 2020 in Frankfurt, Germany. While countries across Europe are reopening and attempting to launch a summer tourist season, some still require a recent negative Covid-19 test certificate to let travellers enter. The testing station at Frankfurt Airport can provide a test result in as fast as two hours through PCR analysis. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)
Getty Images | Thomas Lohnes

This variation in the way the disease is spread is seen in other contagious illnesses, too. The seasonal flu, for example, easily spreads from one person to the next. As a larger number of people are infected with the pathogen, they enable its spread. Other diseases, such as measles, are prone to sudden flares. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, infected individuals have caused superspreader outbreaks of the once-rare disease at places such as Disneyland.

Understanding how and why some people can carry the coronavirus without spreading it, while others can spread it to multiple other people, could be a key in slowing down the spread of the global pandemic.

Until those mechanics are better understood, many health officials believe that narrowing down places and situations in which superspreaders could cause outbreaks and managing those situations could help slow the spread of the virus. Examples of such places include bars and restaurants where, for example, a bartender or server could be a superspreader and infect dozens of customers. Bus drivers, nursing home workers, people housed in close quarters -- such as prisons, military barracks, and dormitories -- could also cause superspreader events.

"By curbing the activities in quite a small proportion of our life, we could actually reduce most of the risk," says epidemiologist Adam Kucharski.