Okay, How?

I started reading this New York Times op-ed by epidemiologists Dillon C. Adam and Benjamin J. Cowling on “superspreading” with some excitement, thinking it might be an important contribution to understanding. I was disappointed.

The phenomenon of “superspreaders”, individuals more likely to infect others, has been recognized for some time and has been described in the context of COVID-19 since it’s been known that the virus was spread person-to-person. To save you the trouble of reading the op-ed 20% of cases account for 80% of transmission. There’s also a survey of the literature.

Here’s the most valuable paragraph in the piece:

We are not aware of any study having been published that identifies individual characteristics that might account for an infected person’s degree of infectiousness or could otherwise help predict who may be a superspreader.

and here’s their conclusion:

The epidemic’s growth can be controlled effectively with tactics far less disruptive, socially and economically, than the extended lockdowns or other extreme forms of social distancing that much of the world has experienced over the past few months.

Forget about maintaining — or, if infections resurge, resuming — sweeping measures designed to stem the virus’s spread in all forms. Just focus on stopping the superspreading.

Okay, I’ll bite. How? As they pointed out there are no known characteristics that can account for degree of infectiousness. That’s just about as helpful as pointing out that you can end crime by stopping criminals.

5 comments… add one
  • GreyShambler Link

    The article seems to conflate or switch back and forth from superspreader events to individuals.
    If it’s individuals they mean, I’ve seen it. People with sneezing or coughing fits who seem blissfully unaware and carry on as usual. They need to be beaten up and placed in a bag. It should be legislated and legal.

  • People with sneezing or coughing fits who seem blissfully unaware and carry on as usual.

    I would think if that’s what they meant they would have said it. Consider the possibility that there are some people who, regardless of behavior, are more strongly predisposed to spread the virus than others. I also suspect that some people are more likely to contract the virus than others.

  • steve Link

    There are some people who describe super spreaders as those who are more likely to spread the disease since they have a broader, more intimate social circle, but it is generally used as you describe it. Someone who is somehow physiologically different in way that lets them more readily spread the disease.


  • GreyShambler Link

    That would be a hypothesis. Next step would be to design and perform an experiment to test it.

  • GreyShambler Link

    Just saw a news report, several doctors in Italy are saying that it just doesn’t seem like the same virus as 2 months ago. It’s not as virulent.

    So I’m wondering, if virus mutate, by quarantining the sickest patients in the hospital, ensuring their invader will have no descendants, do we encourage propagation of the less virulent?

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