CORONAVIRUS 'SUPER-SPREADERS' A POTENTIAL RISK AS STRAIN SPREADS FROM WUHAN TO CITIES OUTSIDE CHINA

Kanta Subbarao, the director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, told the ABC the term first really came into use during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. • "With many viruses that transmit from person to person, there's a general idea of how many people can be infected from the same source," she said.

• Allen Cheng, an infectious disease and epidemiology expert at Monash University, said it was not known if these secondary infections had to do with the amount of SARS virus super-spreaders were shedding, or if it was because they had come into contact with a lot of people.



One of China's top health experts is warning of the potential for "super-spreaders" to worsen the impact of the new coronavirus strain, which can now be passed from human to human.

Zhong Nanshan, the leader of an expert team sent to the city of Wuhan to investigate the deadly virus, told the South China Morning Post there was evidence one patient alone had spread the disease to 14 medical workers.


"I'M SURE THIS IS AN AREA THAT [HEALTH AUTHORITIES] ARE LOOKING INTO QUITE CLOSELY." UNFORTUNATELY, SUPER-SPREADERS CAN ONLY BE IDENTIFIED AFTER THEY HAVE INFECTED A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE.

Dr Zhong said stopping the emergence of super-spreaders was "key to controlling the spread of the virus", but with the busy Lunar New Year travel period underway an increase in infections was expected.


So what exactly is a super-spreader, and what can be done to prevent them infecting other people?


Here's what you need to know.


What is a super-spreader?


A super-spreader is essentially a person who, for a number of reasons, spreads an infectious disease to many other people, frequently the medical workers treating them.


Medical workers are often most affected by super-spreaders. (Reuters)

Kanta Subbarao, the director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, told the ABC the term first really came into use during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

"With many viruses that transmit from person to person, there's a general idea of how many people can be infected from the same source," she said.


"With the super-spreaders — particularly with SARS — it became clear that there were some individuals, a few people, whose infections led to a larger number of secondary infections.

"That's what people watch for when novel viruses emerge: whether there are some people who might serve as a source for larger dissemination, or dissemination to a larger number of people than others."


Professor Subbarao said these secondary infections largely affected the healthcare workers treating the patients, as well as other people they had been in contact with.


Allen Cheng, an infectious disease and epidemiology expert at Monash University, said it was not known if these secondary infections had to do with the amount of SARS virus super-spreaders were shedding, or if it was because they had come into contact with a lot of people.


Have any super-spreaders been identified?


Medics check the temperatures of passengers on a flight from Wuhan to Macau. (ABC News)

Not yet — and thankfully super-spreaders are rare, according to Professor Subbarao.


Professors Cheng and Subbarao said it remained unclear if super-spreaders would even be a factor in the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak because information was still emerging, including on the total number of potential infections.


"This is early days; we don't have a lot of information yet and we're all waiting to see more of the facts as they emerge in scientific publications," Professor Subbarao said.


"Trying to figure out if there are super-spreaders will really require a lot more epidemiologic information than we currently have.

"I'm sure this is an area that [health authorities] are looking into quite closely."