The spread of the novel Coronavirus has been odd, to say the least.
Many people who have been in close proximity to the virus have not caught it, while others have not shown any symptoms for days and spread it to a cluster of other people.
The two major outbreaks on the east coast of the United States are both being traced back to a single carrier; the first potential superspreader is a lawyer in New Rochelle and the other is an attendee from a Boston biotechnology conference put on by the firm Biogen.
The state of Massachusetts Department of Public Health has traced 80% of the state's cases to the single Biogen conference. And in the case of the lawyer from New Rochelle, Governor Cuomo at one point attributed 100% of the new cases in New York state to this one host.
Superspreaders are not a new phenomenon.
In fact, the idea of the superspreader came about from an Irish cook in New York during 1851. Mary Mallon was an asymptomatic carrier of the disease and while going about her daily routine she managed to infect 51 people. She is the first documented case in medical history of a superspreader.
According to Yale professor and physician Nicholas Christakis, "We know from genetic analyses in Italy that the epidemic there was started, we think, by two people, one of whom gave it to 43 other people."
Professor Christakis goes on to say "The question arises, when we see a superspreading episode like this episode at Biogen appears to be, what's the cause of it? Is it just chance? Or is it something to do with the particular circumstances?"
Unfortunately, this is not a very well understood phenomenon. There are no means to identify a superspreader until after the situation has unfolded. There is practically no research on the subject.
Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of health policy at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health thinks "Biology plays a role", but Professor Christakis says "it is not possible to know in advance who or under what circumstances we're going to get a superspreading event."
With so many unchartered waters when it comes to the Coronavirus, clearly there will be an enormous amount of private and government research dedicated to this phenomenon in the near future. The question of how many private and public organizations are working on both treatments and a vaccine are mind blowing.
One lab in Israel has speculated they may be close to a vaccine while others say proper testing is still months away. If the US firm Gilead can produce a respectable treatment soon, as some have suggested, it would be quite the day for US Biotech.