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British 'superspreader' is linked to 11 Wuhan coronavirus cases, and it shows just how hard it can be to track new virus

Business Insider logoBusiness Insider 2020-02-11 Sarah Al-Arshani
a group of people wearing costumes © Indonesian Foreign Ministry via AP
  • A potential "superspreader" may be responsible for at least 11 new coronavirus infections across 3 countries.
  • The case brings lots of questions on the role of "superspreaders" in outbreaks.
  • Superspreaders infect an "unusually" large amount of people with a disease, and according to the BBC, they are a "feature of nearly every outbreak."
  • However, the term does not have strict scientific guidelines.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
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(Video provided by Reuters)

Health officials in the United Kingdom are scrambling to find anyone who may have had close contact with man being referred to as a "superspreader" after being linked to 11 new infections of the novel coronavirus.

The man, said to be in his late 50s, travelled to Singapore for a sales conference from January 20 to 22, where it is thought he caught the novel virus, several news outlets reported. The man then flew to a ski resort close to the French Alps, before returning to his hometown of Hover and visiting a local pub, The Washington Post reported.

While in Singapore, he stayed at the Grand Hyatt and according to the Associated Press; 94 other foreign travellers including some from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, checked in at the same time as the man. The hotel was informed by Singapore's Health Ministry that three other travellers who stayed there were diagnosed with the virus in their home countries of Malaysia and South Korea.

The British man only began to show symptoms after he flew to France, where he stayed at a three-story chalet in Contamines-Montjoie close to Mont Blanc with his family for four days.

He took an EasyJet flight back to London's Gatewick airport from Geneva, and then went to the Grenadier pub in his hometown.

Also Watch: Cruise ship quarantine could make coronavirus outbreak worse (Video provided by CBC)

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Through out his travel, the man has been linked to 11 infections, including a 9-year-old boy in France. French health officials said two schools the kid visited were shut down, the Guardian reported. Additionally, the AP reported that 61 people including children who may have come in contact with boy had been tested for the virus. All came back negative.

Overall, the majority of 11 cases linked to the man stemmed from the mans stay at the chalet, The Post reported.

"New cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France," Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, told The Post.

According to the BBC, the man is linked to five of the eight confirmed cases the UK has seen.

Also Watch: Health experts in China track coronavirus spread (Video provided by Fox News)

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'Superspreaders' infect large numbers of people

While the the British man has informally been described a "superspreader," the World Health Organization has said the label may be unfair, given that those linked with to him with the virus were in a cluster.

Superspreaders infect an "unusually" large amount of people with a disease, and according to the BBC, they are a "feature of nearly every outbreak."

However, the term does not have strict scientific guidelines.

Superspreaders can have a significant impact on an outbreak. For example a single hospital patient infected 82 others with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, during that outbreak in 2015.

When it comes to the Wuhan coronavirus, one person can usually infect one or two people. However, some may infect more and some may infect no one at all.

According to the Guardian, the "20/80 rule" has been established in the past 2o years, where a "small core group of about one-in-five people transmit infections to far more people than the majority do."

There are several factors that may determine if someone is a superspreader, but nothing is certain. The Guardian reported that immune systems may play a role - whether someone is either really good at suppressing the virus that the person does not feel any symptoms, or the opposite, where the persons immune system does not suppress the virus.

Experts told the BBC that some people are "super-shedders" and tend to release more of the virus from their bodies, while others spread more of the virus because they interact with a large amount of people.

And while super spreading of this virus "will not significantly change how the disease is managed," the BBC said, it's important not to miss cases of potential superspreaders.

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