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What's a Coronavirus Superspreader? (technologyreview.com)
24 points by fortran77 80 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments

A lot of what makes a person a superspreader is not biology but behavior. They happen to be in a place with a lot of other people, they didn't maintained distance, didn't used facemasks, and probably neither the people that got infected did.

The point is that superspreader have the same behavior elements of most of the other people on those places, and each of them potentially will go to more big meetings and parties taking few if any measures to avoid keep infeting. You are dealing with clusters of superspreaders, not individuals, that may infect "normal" people as well as not all their contacts with other people will be in big parties.

Good policies to prevent the spreading of the disease should take those clusters and cultures into account.

[citation desperately needed]. Environment matters, but if every infectee in such an environment triggered a superspreading event, R would be much, much higher. There's clearly some significant other reason infectivity is overdistributed.

If that's the case, we'd see some sort of pattern. Instead, there are specific events where, for some reason, one individual seems to infect 10s or more. Then those that are infected don't really seem to spread it as much despite being in the same environment. It'll be interesting to see how the research on this plays out over time.

Right. There aren’t really “superspreaders” as much as “superspreading events”.

It takes a combination of 1) high viral presentation, 2) breath activity that generates lots of droplets, such as singing, public speaking, shouting, exercise, cough or sneeze, and 3) a location where lots of unprotected people will breath the same air for a significant period of time.

Preventing the 1st is difficult, we don’t know who is infectious. The 2nd is where masks as source prevention are critical. The 3rd is where social distance and 3C interventions help.

> 'There aren’t really “superspreaders” as much as “superspreading events”.'

the fundamental attribution error strikes again.

also, you only need masks when you can't effectively distance (i.e., at potential superspreader events, like inside a bar, at a party, etc.).

socialize this one key modification to the rules, and you'd get more compliance and less pushback, with at least the same reduced transmission rate.

you don't need to lock down anything, just distance, and when you can't, mask. self-quarantine when sick. easy, and anxiety-free to boot.

> shedding more virus than is normal, but we still don’t know what would trigger this, let alone how to identify it through practical means.

What's the technical path to a airborne virus monitor? Something that sucks in air and detects viruses, and sounds an alarm like a smoke or carbon monoxide detector.

It doesn't have to be very specific to COVID-19, so you probably don't need RNA sequencing. Any significant number of viruses (except possibly a few harmless ones on an allow-list) should be reason to evacuate a building.

Wouldn't the system somehow need to detect the virus at incredibly low PPM, and rely on the virus being in that section of the room? Especially with coronavirus, which travels via water droplets and falls to the ground fairly quickly, you could have a spreader walk through the room without it hitting the device.

I'd also expect that the list of viruses that are worth evacuation over is much much shorter than the sum of all viruses in the air at one time. (Looked it up, looks like 219 viruses that can even just infect us[1] vs hundreds of millions [2])

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427559/

[2] https://www.virology.ws/2013/09/06/how-many-viruses-on-earth...

False positives would really mess this up. Can you imagine all the Ebola office fire drills?

It'd be absolutely terrifying - a totally invisible threat setting off an alarm that's telling you there's a danger in your immediate vicinity. And then what? The office building fire drill, where hundreds of people all trudge down 20 stories together in the claustrophobic confines of a concrete stairwell along with the unconsciously contagious? Or lock down the room until someone can decontaminate the whole thing?

Some kind of breathalyzer then?

In that case we're basically just down to more efficient and faster reading swabbing.

It's also questionable if getting everyone to put their lips on and then breathe into the same tube is a good virus containment strategy.

> What's the technical path to a airborne virus monitor?

Idk specifics but I remember reading about projects like these [1] 18 years ago and haven’t seen much development since. I’m sure one of us has more information than I. Maybe they’ve gotten past the perpetual 20 years in the future problem? Regardless, a silicon based particle detector based on the nose is the most promising direction I think to developing something functional.


I'm not sure about air, but at least for the ocean each drop of water holds like 10m virus (or at least estimation like that was done some time ago).

If air (at least up to some height) carries virus in a similar way you should have a lot of usually harmless ones and a few ones in a deny-list)

I'm not sure the underlying premise is true. There are all the experiments about how your hands are constantly covered in germs unless you literally just washed them; I don't know why the same wouldn't be true of the air.

> coronavirus transmission more or less follows the 80/20 Pareto Principle...while another looking at transmission in Shenzhen, China, pegs the numbers closer to 80/10

While possible, and likely, there isn't necessarily a difference between the biology and behavior super-spreaders due to environment and chance.

This seems like yet another reason for using universal contact tracing apps, assuming we can execute on the privacy aspect. What's going on with that currently? Have we just given up?

"Super spreader" reminds me of the language "super predator" which was used to depict black kids as violent rapists in US media.

Edit: Sounds like some good ol media designed to get attention via fear.

There might be a few people carelessly running around spreading the virus. There are a few documented cases of this happening early on. Possibly there are some individuals who will do this again in time.

> There might be a few people carelessly running around spreading the virus. There are a few documented cases of this happening early on. Possibly there are some individuals who will do this again in time.

How would this invoke less fear than "super spreader"? You just enumerated all the scary things about the phrase.

It is a broad brush used to paint fear into the population. Anyone could be a superspreader so you must act as if all people are. Why? b/c you don't know who's a "superspreader". Yes panic, now!

The article defines a superspreader, but the definition isn't useful:

>"a generic term for an unusually contagious individual who’s been infected with disease. In the context of the coronavirus, scientists haven’t narrowed down how many infections someone needs to cause to qualify as a superspreader, but generally speaking it far exceeds the two to three individuals researchers initially estimated the average infected patient could infect."

Hmm, so granny kisses 2 grandchildren, she's not a superspreader but if she kisses 3, watch out! Pretty vague definition here.

Later the article states:

>"What makes someone a superspreader? We don’t yet know what it is about the biology of some people that causes them to be superspreaders. It might have something to do with increased viral loads and shedding more virus than is normal, but we still don’t know what would trigger this, let alone how to identify it through practical means."<

So it's a term they haven't established a definition for yet, a term for people they cannot identify, and, most of all, it is useless not only for epidemiologists' demonstrably invalid models which did not work before and continue to not work, nor is it useful for anyone else except scaremongers.

This article is beneath MIT. Shame!

This is a long-used term that isn't specific to COVID-19, which describes a legitimate medical phenomenon with a wide historical basis. Ever head of Typhoid Mary? She was a superspreader.

Interestingly, people who claim everything about COVID-19 is a conspiracy by the media (or the elites, or whoever) to control the populace with fear are significantly more likely to be superspreaders. Why? Because all the simple, moderately-inconvenient precautions they refuse to take legitimately do slow the spread of the disease. Someone who frequently goes within 6 feet of other people while not wearing a mask and leaves their home more frequently than necessary has a much higher chance of getting the disease, a much higher chance of transmitting the disease to each person they come into contact with while contagious, and also a much higher number of contacts to potentially infect.

The term is actually incredibly useful, even on an individual level - if I'm considering who I'm willing to interact with, someone who's come into close contact with 500 people in the past week while not wearing a mask is significantly more dangerous to me and my loved ones than someone who has come into contact with 50 people at a distance of 6 feet or more while wearing a mask.


> But if so, what new does that reveal, what does it tell you that is useful and not already known? How does it help do the math?

It dramatically changes your emphasis even if you can't predict in advance.

If we have a uniform spreading, then we have to heavily lock down everything and we have to be invasive about contact tracing. We have to worry obsessively about anyone with human contact in the service industry. We have to keep people at home except for the most imperative of reasons. We have to trace even the most casual of contacts if someone gets diagnosed.

If it's mostly superspreaders, then we only really have to be careful about gatherings--sports, church, theaters, etc. We can trace in response to an outbreak because we're likely to know who is driving it. And reasonable protection measures (like wearing a mask) protect service workers against incidental contact from most contagious people.

This is the difference between massive shutdown and actually getting back to life but with some precautions.

The problem is that superspreaders are that way because they both emit high viral loads (for whatever reason) AND engage in behaviors that encourage the transmission of the diseases.

And, funny that AIDS was mentioned, because it seems like one particularly attractive, promiscuous flight attendant was responsible for a lot of the initial AIDS transmission--a classic superspreader.

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