Superspreading events in the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2: opportunities for interventions and control Academic Article uri icon


  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiological agent of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) disease, has moved rapidly around the globe, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands. The basic reproduction number, which has been widely used—appropriately and less appropriately—to characterize the transmissibility of the virus, hides the fact that transmission is stochastic, often dominated by a small number of individuals, and heavily influenced by superspreading events (SSEs). The distinct transmission features of SARS-CoV-2, e.g., high stochasticity under low prevalence (as compared to other pathogens, such as influenza), and the central role played by SSEs on transmission dynamics cannot be overlooked. Many explosive SSEs have occurred in indoor settings, stoking the pandemic and shaping its spread, such as long-term care facilities, prisons, meat-packing plants, produce processing facilities, fish factories, cruise ships, family gatherings, parties, and nightclubs. These SSEs demonstrate the urgent need to understand routes of transmission, while posing an opportunity to effectively contain outbreaks with targeted interventions to eliminate SSEs. Here, we describe the different types of SSEs, how they influence transmission, empirical evidence for their role in the COVID-19 pandemic, and give recommendations for control of SARS-CoV-2.


  • Althouse, BM
  • Wenger, EA
  • Miller, Joel C
  • Scarpino, SV
  • Allard, A
  • Hebert-Dufresne, L
  • Hu, H

publication date

  • November 12, 2020