Coronavirus: What is a 'super spreader' and how does it apply to the outbreak?

A woman wears a mask as she walks near China Town in London, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
A woman wears a mask as she walks near China Town in London, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. Copyright Kirsty Wigglesworth/ASSOCIATED PRESS
By Rachael Kennedy
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A British national diagnosed with the coronavirus after attending a conference in Singapore has raised concerns that he may be a "super spreader" of the illness - but what is that?


A British man who has been diagnosed with coronavirus after attending a conference in Singapore has sparked concerns that he may be a "super spreader" of the illness.

It comes after doctors confirmed a further ten cases in people who had been in contact with the man after he had flown from Singapore to a resort in the French Alps.

So what exactly is a super spreader and how is it relevant to coronavirus?

What is it?

Super spreading, in humans, is not an official medical term but generally refers to a disease-infected person who passes on an illness at a faster and wider rate than others.

The common rate for transmission of this coronavirus is believed that for every person infected, they will, on average, infect a further 2.6 people.

But those who are deemed superspreaders may infect many more.

The British businessman with the virus is believed to have flown home from France via Geneva on an easyJet flightAP

How do they infect more people?

There are a variety of different ways someone could be a super spreader, from reasons including the strength of their immune systems to how many people they come into contact with on a daily basis.

Immune systems

Those with stronger immune systems may be able to go about their daily activities without exhibiting symptoms - and could unwittingly transmit the disease to others.

On the other end, those with weaker immune systems who have a higher rate of replicating the virus would also pass it on more easily.

This is the same with those who are exhibiting symptoms and spread the virus through coughing and sneezing.

Travel and contact

A person's every day habits can also come into play, depending on how often they travel and how many people they come into contact with.

For example, the recently diagnosed British man is believed to have contracted the illness at a business conference in Singapore, before returning to Europe.

He then stayed with his family at a resort in Les Contamines-Montjoie for several days and flew home to Brighton via Switzerland.

During his travels across several countries, he would have come into contact with many people before discovering he had the virus - and it is now believed he transmitted it to around 10 people.

These include the five cases confirmed at the resort he stayed at in the French Alps, and a further five that were confirmed after they returned to the UK and Mallorca from the same trip.


Health workers could also be at a greater risk of contracting and transmitting the illness due to the amount of sick people they come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.

Two new cases of coronavirus in the UK were confirmed on Monday to be healthcare workers.


Past examples of super spreading

Examples of super spreading were seen in previous outbreaks of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

But Typhoid Mary is a classic example. She is believed to have not shown symptoms of Typhoid and went on to transmit the illness to 51 people through food she had prepared.

Similarly, children can also be considered super spreaders of the cold and flu, who pass the illness on while at school and in nursery.

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