18. SUPERSPREADERS: Oleg Salenko

Once upon a time, there was a British man named Steve who attended a congress in Singapore that was also attended by Chinese colleagues from Wuhan. After four days of congress, Steve returned to London to re-pack and travel the next day —January 24th, 2020— to the French Alps for a skiing holiday. He stayed in a chalet with 10 adult friends, and interacted with a married couple in the chalet next door, who had three children. He was not feeling very well, but he thought that one does not travel to the Alps to stay in bed and was active during the four days of his trip. Steve was a SARS-CoV-2 carrier and infected nine of the 10 adults in his chalet. In the next chalet, the two adults and one of the three children also became infected. During the following days, the nine-year-old infected boy had some symptoms, but still attended activities at three different schools.

Scientists have studied some events such as the one in the Alps, where the infected could be tracked, to try to learn more about SARS-CoV-2. They call them supercontagion or superspreader events. If a contagion is a goal, a superspreader would be something like the Russian Oleg Salenko in that Californian afternoon of the 1994 World Cup who scored five goals vs Cameroon.

A French research group was commissioned to study the Alpine supercontainer event. They monitored 178 people who were in contact, in three different schools, with the infected child. Of these 178, they tested 73 suspected cases and concluded that the child did not infect anyone. Details are published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal 17.

This work was echoed by the English press and The Guardian newspaper published a story titled “Boy with COVID-19 does not transmit the disease to more than 170 contacts.”

It was great news; however, some doubts arose when reading the details of the scientific article. For example, the infected child had a minimal viral load. His SARS-CoV-2 levels, quantified by RT-PCR, were just above the detection limit in the six tests that were performed on consecutive days. In football terms, if the contagion is a goal, it is as if the infected child plays striker and does not approach the opposite penalty area or go up for corner kicks. A boy who despite participating in the game has little goal threat. In medical terms, it is an individual with a low viral load and, therefore, with less infective capacity. In addition, although the boy had symptoms, the article says that along with SARS-CoV-2, two other viruses were detected, including one from the flu.

It happens that there is no better news than the one you want to hear. Curing the virus is fine, but children being able to go to school and stay with their grandparents is music to our ears. This news spread like wildfire. Like that piece of news that, while being false, spread through Barranquilla after the final of the 2014 opening tournament of the Colombian League. Atlético Nacional de Medellín won on penalties against Junior de Barranquilla, the team where the legendary Carlos Valderrama played. Yet a hoax rumour appeared proclaiming Junior champions following the disqualification of Atlético Nacional. Such joyful news is not greeted in the same way in Helsinki as in Barranquilla, the city where Shakira was born and raised, on the Colombian Caribbean coast, where two bangs of a drum result in 12 people starting to dance. Some did not bother to confirm the news and partied until dawn. Images of that night of celebration remain a historical reminder for clubs of other fans to mock Junior.

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