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Super-spreaders of novel coronaviruses that cause SARS, MERS and COVID-19: A systematic review

Publication date: 

30 Mar 2023


Annals of Epidemiology. 2023 Mar 30


Brainard J, Jones NR, Harrison FC, Hammer CC & Lake IR

Publication type: 



Purpose Most index cases with novel coronavirus infections transmit disease to just one or two other individuals, but some individuals “super-spread”—they infect many secondary cases. Understanding common factors that super-spreaders may share could inform outbreak models, and be used to guide contact tracing during outbreaks. Methods We searched in MEDLINE, Scopus, and preprints to identify studies about people documented as transmitting pathogens that cause SARS, MERS, or COVID-19 to at least nine other people. We extracted data to describe them by age, sex, location, occupation, activities, symptom severity, any underlying conditions, disease outcome and undertook quality assessment for outbreaks published by June 2021. Results The most typical super-spreader was a male age 40+. Most SARS or MERS super-spreaders were very symptomatic, the super-spreading occurred in hospital settings and frequently the individual died. In contrast, COVID-19 super-spreaders often had very mild disease and most COVID-19 super-spreading happened in community settings. Conclusions SARS and MERS super-spreaders were often symptomatic, middle- or older-age adults who had a high mortality rate. In contrast, COVID-19 super-spreaders tended to have mild disease and were any adult age. More outbreak reports should be published with anonymized but useful demographic information to improve understanding of super-spreading, super-spreaders, and the settings in which super-spreading happens.