What is a supercontager?

A supercontainer is a sick person who transmits the disease to more than the average infected. In this space we discuss why it happens and its implications in a pandemic.

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The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) continues to be part of our lives and has forced us to become familiar with different terminologies that appear in the media. From screening tests to numbers, rates, predictions, and statistics, we have had to interpret a large amount of epidemiological information. Now, we find a new term: supercontager.

To which it refers? What role does it play in the epidemic? Solving these questions is important to understand how it contributes to the spread of the virus. Therefore, below we delve further into the meaning of this term.

What is a supercontager?

A supercontainer is defined as a sick individual capable of infecting more people than the average . Let’s take an example:

  • The R0 value – basic reproductive rate – of the coronavirus is between 1.4 and 2.5 according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This means that each infected patient will infect more than one person on average, but less than three during their illness.
  • The SARS virus had an R0 of approximately three. During the outbreak of this disease, supercontagators were observed that were capable of infecting up to 36 people per individual. That is, the individual reproductive rate of the disease was more than 10 times higher in these people than in normal patients.
  • Earlier in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, cases of supercontactors were observed in Wuhan, China. A clear example was that of a patient who transmitted the disease to at least 16 health workers.
  • In the rest of the world there have been more cases. For example, in New York a judge transmitted the diseaseto at least 20 people.

One idea has to be clear to us: the basic reproductive rate represents an average , and the individual reproductive rate of superchargers is excessive compared to it. Once the definition is covered with examples, it is necessary to qualify the importance of the supercontager during a pandemic.

COVID-19 patients classified as supercontagators can infect more people than the average.

You may also be interested in: Patient zero, research during the pandemic

A statistical game

Like all natural processes, the importance of these subjects is governed by mathematical theorems . It is necessary to enter the world of numbers with the Pareto principle. This theorem describes the statistical phenomenon by which, in any population that contributes to a common effect, it is a small proportion that contributes most of the effect.

In other words, this is the 20/80 rule. In other words, 20% of those infected are the cause of 80% of infections. Clearly, not all cases of supercontactors respond to this general rule, but this distribution has been observed in other epidemics .

Still, the transmission of supercontactors can occur even if it does not meet the 20/80 rule. Now, what makes a sick person a supercontager?

Risk factor’s

There are various theories about how a patient can infect a huge number of people. However, the cause is not known exactly.

  • Co-infection with other pathogens: the coexistence of more than one pathogen in our body can promote greater transmissibility of one of them – or both – to other people. In studies carried out, patients with HIV and other accessory disease had a greater development of it than those without co-infection.
  • Weakened immunesystem  A weakened immune system may not be able to effectively stop the spread of a virus in our body, increasing the viral load . A higher than average viral load is associated with a higher transmission capacity.
  • Effective immune system: Another possibility is that the infected person’s immune system is so prepared that they do not even realize that they are sick, transmitting the virus to many more people, leading normal lives.

At the moment it is unknown exactly why there are individuals who are super-contagious. However, several theories try to explain it.

This study published in the journal  Synapse  yields interesting results regarding the topic: during the SARS pandemic, patients considered supercontactors and normal patients were monitored. Contrary to what can be believed, there were no differences in the clinical symptoms between both groups.

Both superchargers and normal patients suffered similar effects in terms of fever and lung damage. Only one difference was observed: the supercontagators had to stay longer in the hospital until the disease was overcome.

To know more: Coronavirus, updated information and latest news.

A term full of unknowns

Both the identification and the role of supercontactors during a pandemic are difficult parameters to discern. Still, expert agencies emphasize the importance of identifying these people to prevent further contagion in times of pandemic.


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