When there’s an infectious disease outbreak, epidemiologists want to figure out a few things right off the bat. How contagious is this pathogen? How deadly is it? Are there super spreaders transmitting the disease to others?

The answers to these questions are still emerging in the case of the current coronavirus outbreak. In the meantime, Elizabeth McGraw, director of Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, explains just what a super spreader is and why they can have an outsized role in an epidemic.

In other coronavirus coverage, an infectious disease specialist explains how to know whether you’re at risk and a biologist compares the epidemic to SARS.

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Whether by biology or behavior, some people in the crowd will transmit coronavirus to more than the average number of others. AP Photo/Kin Cheung

What is a super spreader? An infectious disease expert explains

Elizabeth McGraw, Pennsylvania State University

The novel coronavirus spreading outward from Wuhan, China, will get an assist from a subset of infected people who transmit it to many others.

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