Whenever an epidemic breaks out in the health sector, there is always a small minority who hugely contribute to most of the spreading. Perhaps the most famous superspreader was Typhoid Mary, who is speculated for having infected about 51 people. Three of the infected died from 1900 to 1907.
A recently published research now places the blame on this minority group for having spearheaded the spread of Ebola in West Africa. The scientists believe that if they had effectively controlled superspreading, then two-thirds of the Ebola cases would have been tamed, reports Washington Post.
During analysis of the Ebola effect, it was discovered that 28,000 people were infected, of whom 11,000 died as shown by World Health Organization data.
Oregon State University and Princeton University researchers did retrospective analysis of the timing and location of 200 community burials between Oct 2014 and March 2015 in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
They used a mathematical model to reconstruct the network responsible for transmission so as to spot the cases that can be linked to superspreaders. Their conclusion was that close to three percent of the infected people ultimately infected about 61 percent of the cases.
Benjamin Dalziel, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of population biology at Oregon State University said that the study can be best understood in this way: observe the study patter and then locate the shooter’s standing point.
By using the disease’s transmission pattern, only a small number on infected persons caused majority of the infections – same as it is in Liberia and guinea, some of the hardly hit nations.
“Superspreading was more important in driving the epidemic than we realized,” said Dalziel.
How did Ebola Spread?
To arrive at their conclusion, the research experts looked into cases in Freetown.
They keenly observed the pattern of the locations where the cases emerged and they were able to identify the number of people a single infected person passed the virus to.
According to Pro Steven Riley, the infectious period for most of the cases was relatively small and “generated low numbers of secondary infections, whereas a small number had longer infectious periods and generated more infections.”
A lot of work was placed on contact-tracing and this could be helpful in the future.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was an unprecedented occurrence with tremendous impact, says Professor Jonathan Ball. It is important to be aware of the person likely to transmit the virus as this would help cut down transmission. Keen attention ought to be placed on infected children and the elderly as these stood the highest chance of passing the virus to the next person.
Whether this is as a result of biological or social factors, that is yet to be known but the important question is how this can be averted, says the professor.