Great topic for public health class. Somewhere under the category of “how much we don’t know”.


Parameters that should be theoretically equal often aren’t so in the real world. Ideally everyone should have the same potential to transmit an infection during a given outbreak, but it has long been observed that this isn’t true. Super-spreaders play an extraordinary role in driving outbreaks of infectious disease. A super-spreader is a person who transmits an infection to a significantly greater number of other people than the average infected person. The occurrence of a super spreader early in an outbreak can be the difference between a local outbreak that fizzles out and a regional epidemic.

Super-spreaders have been known since infamous Typhoid Mary spread typhoid fever to 51 people over seven years with just an asymptomatic infection [1]. For much of the time since then, they have been treated as oddities, puzzles that could be cracked as if there was necessarily something intrinsically wrong with them. It turns out…

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