We haven’t heard much about superspreading events in the last year, mainly because we haven’t really been looking for them.
The United States eliminated and scaled back its testing and contact tracing programs in early 2022, and in doing so, we lost track of how widespread COVID is. But if you’ve been away from home or heard stories from other people who have been away from home, it seems that superspreading events after big gatherings like concerts, weddings and conferences are still a big thing.
While superspreading events may not be as prominent as they were at the start of the pandemic, social gatherings can cause clusters of new infections, even among people who have been previously vaccinated or infected. However, thanks to the tools we now have to prevent and treat COVID, namely vaccines and therapies like Paxlovid, the vast majority of infections that spring from superspreader events are probably not too serious.
“Decreases in the susceptibility of the population as a whole, increases in personal protective behaviors, and underreporting of cases have made superspreading events less likely to occur and also less likely to be reported.” Bailey Fosdickassociate professor of biostatistics and informatics at the Colorado School of Public Health, he told HuffPost.
Several factors contribute to superspreading events.
dr Janet Jokerclinical professor and interim executive associate dean of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, said the main factor in superspreading events is usually a contagious person who doesn’t even know they’re infected.
“Such ‘super-spreaders’ may not have any symptoms, only minimal symptoms, or they may be more obviously sick,” Jokela said.
As was the case in 2020: some people shed a bit of virus for a couple of days, while others spill a lot of virus over a longer period of time and you risk infecting a lot of people.
The recent mix of variants they are better at replicating inside our nasal cavities, and it is widely believed that the better the virus is at making copies of itself, the more transmissible it is. Certain variants, such as BQ.1.1they are becoming increasingly adept at evading our immunity, which could further increase the risk of becoming infected even after vaccination or infection.
The ability of the virus to spread is also influenced by the environment. The coronavirus is especially adept at spreading in crowded indoor environments with poor ventilation.
“Superspreader events depend primarily on the host, as well as characteristics of the virus, the environment, the people exposed, and probably a combination of all of these,” Jokela said.
What do superspreader events look like today?
Most people now have some immunity to COVID, either by getting vaccinated and boosted or by becoming infected. Due to the high level of immunity in the population, we are not seeing as many superspreading events as before.
But superspreading events can and do happen, even if we’re no longer tracking them. elizabeth cardboardassociate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health, said it’s entirely possible to have superspreading in social gatherings, especially when there are people without immunity who are at higher risk of getting the disease.
“The trick is that we don’t have a magic wand to identify who those people without immunity are,” Carlton said.
But superspreading events can occur even when the crowd is largely immune. the immunity we win after being vaccinated or infected is not bulletproof, and more and more research shows that while vaccines do a good job of preventing infection for a few months, their ability to reduce transmission declines over time. This makes people vulnerable to contracting a breakthrough infection or reinfection.
Most people with immunity will be well protected against serious illness if they do get COVID, Jokela said. Still, even though we are seeing less severe cases of superspreading events than we saw in 2020, COVID remains a leading cause of death in the US, indicating that substantial transmission is still occurring. Not to mention the fact that there is still a risk of long covid if you are infected, even with a mild case.
We don’t know how frequent superspreading events are.
To tell the truth, we don’t really know how common superspreader events are because there is so little evidence. According to Jokela, many people get tested at home, if at all, and those results are not reported to local public health departments.
“Even when superspreader events do occur, we probably don’t hear about them as often due to home testing and lack of testing,” Fosdick added.
If you received a booster or were recently infected, know that you are most likely well protected against serious illness. and yet vaccination it doesn’t eliminate transmission, it dramatically reduces it, so your chances of getting infected from a gathering with superspreading potential are even lower than if you hadn’t been vaccinated at all.
“This may not prevent infection with current variants, but it does protect against serious disease – it is vitally important,” Jokela said.
lastly the same measures that were encouraged earlier in the pandemic (pre-event testing, masking, avoiding crowded spaces, and investing in air ventilation) still help slow transmission and prevent superspreading events from occurring. Those measures remain vitally important as we navigate this phase of the pandemic.
We may no longer know how frequent superspreading events are, but we still know how to protect ourselves in situations that have the potential to cause an explosion of new infections.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date recommendations.