Why is the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 increasingly becoming a “variant of concern” in the current Covid-19 pandemic?

The Delta variant (B.1.617.2, formerly India variant) has become an increasingly prevalent strain of SARS-Cov-2 causing Covid-19 in many countries outside of India, including the United States and United Kingdom, particularly affecting younger unvaccinated persons.  Several features of the Delta variant are of particular concern. 1-7

  1. Delta virus appears to be more transmissible when compared to previously emerged variant viruses. Data from new Public Health England (PHE) research suggests that the Delta variant is associated with a 64% increased risk of household transmission compared with the Alpha variant (B.,1.1.7, UK variant) and 40% more transmissibility in outdoors. 1,8  
  2. Delta virus is also associated with a higher rate of severe disease, doubling the risk of hospitalization based on preliminary data from Scotland. In vitro, it replicates more efficiently than the Alpha variant with higher respiratory viral loads.5
  3. Delta virus may also be associated with reduced vaccine effectiveness with increased vaccine breakthroughs. One study found that Delta variant is 6.8-fold more resistant to neutralization by sera from Covid-19 convalescent and mRNA vaccinated individuals.5 Fortunately, a pre-print study released by PHE in May 2021 found that 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were still 88% effective against symptomatic infection with Delta variant  (vs 93% for the Alpha variant) and 96% effective against hospitalization; 1 dose was only 33% effective against symptomatic disease (vs 50% for the Alpha variant).  Two doses of Astra Zeneca vaccine were 60% effective against symptomatic disease from the Delta variant.8 
  4. Aside from its somewhat unique epidemiologic features, Covid-19 caused by Delta variant seems to be behaving differently (starting out as a “bad cold” or “off feeling”), with top symptoms of headache, followed by runny nose and sore throat with less frequent fever and cough; loss of sense of smell was not common at all based on reported data to date.1

What the Delta variant reminds us is, again, the importance of vaccination, masks and social distancing. The pandemic is still with us!

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that, on average, a Delta variant-infected person may transmit it to 6 other contacts (Ro~6.0) compared to 3 others (Ro~3) for the original SARS-CoV-2 strains found during the early part of the pandemic?1

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References

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-57467051
  2. Knodell R. Health Advisory: Emergence of Delta variant of coronavirus causing Covid-19 in USA. Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. 23 June, 2021. https://health.mo.gov/emergencies/ert/alertsadvisories/pdf/update62321.pdf
  3. Kupferschmidt K, Wadman M. Delta variant triggers new phase in the pandemic. Science 25 June 2021; 372:1375-76. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/372/6549/1375.full.pdf
  4. Sheikh A, McMenamin J, Taylor B, et al. SARS-CoV-2 Delta VOC in Scotland: demographics, risk of hospital admission, and vaccine effectiveness. Lancet 2021; 397:2461-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8201647/
  5. Mlcochova P, Kemp S, Dhar MS, et al. Sars-Cov-2 B.1.617.2 Delta variant emergence and vaccine breakthrough. In Review Nature portfolio, posted 22 June, 2021. https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-637724/v1
  6. Bernal JL, Andrews N, Gower C, et al. Effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against the B.1.617.2 variant. MedRxiv, posted May 24, 2021. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.22.21257658v1 vaccine efficacy
  7. Allen H, Vusirikala A, Flannagan J, et al. Increased household transmission of Covid-19 cases associatd with SARS-Cov-2 variant of concern B.1.617.2: a national case control study. Public Health England. 2021. https://khub.net/documents/135939561/405676950/Increased+Household+Transmission+of+COVID-19+Cases+-+national+case+study.pdf/7f7764fb-ecb0-da31-77b3-b1a8ef7be9aa  Accessed June 27, 2021.
  8. Callaway E. Delta coronavirus variant: scientists brace for impact. Nature. 22 June 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01696-3 

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers, Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School or its affiliated institutions. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author.

Why is the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 increasingly becoming a “variant of concern” in the current Covid-19 pandemic?

How long should my patient recovering from Covid-19 remain on isolation precautions?

For the great majority of patients with Covid-19, the risk of shedding viable SARS-CoV2 diminishes considerably as the time from onset of symptoms nears 10 days or more, with the risk higher among those who have severe (eg, sp02 <94%)  or critical disease (eg, in need of ICU care) or who are immunocompromised. 1-4  

For patients with mild-moderate illness who are not immunocompromised, the CDC recommends isolation for “at least 10 days” from onset of symptoms as long as at least 24 hours have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and symptoms  (eg, cough, shortness of breath) have improved.  For patients with severe to critical illness or who are severely immunocompromised, “at least 10 days” and up to 20 days since onset of symptoms—with qualifications as above— is recommended. 1

A 2021 meta-analysis found that although SARS-CoV-2 RNA shedding in respiratory and stool samples may be prolonged, duration of viable virus was relatively short with no study detecting live virus beyond day 9 of illness.2

In contrast, another study involving patients with severe or critical illness (23% immunocompromised, 2/3 on mechanical ventilation) found  that the median time of infectious virus shedding was 8 days (range 0-20) and concluded that detection of infectious virus was common after 8 days or more since onset of symptoms; the probability of isolating infectious SARS-CoV-2 was  ≤5% when the duration of symptoms was 15.2 days (95% CI 13.4-17.2). In the same study, a single patient had infectious particles for up to 20 days following onset of symptoms. 3

The take home point is that although 10 days of isolation since onset of symptoms should be sufficient for mild to moderate Covid-19, for those with severe or critical disease or immunocompromised state, a longer duration up to 20 days may be needed.  The setting and status of the potential contacts (eg, an immunocompromised person in household setting) should also be considered in our decision making. 4

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that infectious particles are unlikely to be isolated from respiratory tract samples once patients develop a serum neutralizing antibody titer of at least 1:80, potentially useful information in deciding when a patient may come off isolation? 3

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References

  1. Discontinuation of transmission-based precautions and disposition of patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection in healthcare settings. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-hospitalized-patients.html#definitions. Accessed March 24, 2021
  2. Cevik M, Tate M, Lloyd O, et al. Sars-Cov-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV viral load dynamics, duration of viral shedding, and infectiousness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Microbe 2021;2:e13-22. https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanmic/PIIS2666-5247(20)30172-5.pdf
  3. Van Kampen JJA, van de Vijver DAMC, Fraaij PLA, et al. Duration and key determinants of infectious virus shedding in hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). Nature Communications 2021;12:267. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20568-4
  4. Kadire SR, Fabre V, Wenzel RP. Doctor, how long should I isolate? NEJM, March 2021 https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMclde2100910?articleTools=true

 

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

How long should my patient recovering from Covid-19 remain on isolation precautions?

Beyond masks and hand hygiene, what factors impact transmission of Covid-19 in indoor gatherings?

Aside from factors specific to the source individual (eg, viral load in exhaled air, “superspreader” features, etc…) and host characteristics (eg, older age, obesity, immunocompromised state), transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in indoor settings may be impacted by several factors, including social distancing, ventilation of rooms/ direction of airflow, room occupancy, exposure time and higher risk activities, such as eating, talking loud, heavy breathing during exercise, laughing, coughing and sneezing. 1-4

  1. Physical distance from infected individuals. Although a “safe” distance of 6 feet has often been cited, increasing evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may be spread not only by larger droplets but also by airborne route (ie, beyond 6 feet or shortly after an infected person leaves the area). In fact, 8 of 10 studies on horizontal droplet distance have reported droplets traveling more than 6 feet (2 meters), some cases up to 26 feet (8 meters), and 1 study documented virus at 13 feet (4 meters). Transmission beyond 6 feet is not surprising since even as early as 1948 beta streptococci were found 9.5 feet from 10% of people who were infected!1
  2. Quality of ventilation and direction of airflow in the room. Poorly ventilated rooms would be expected to have more potentially infectious droplets in the air for longer periods of time, even after an infected person leaves the area.
  3. Room occupancy. The higher the occupancy the more likely to have exhaled contaminated air from 1 or more infected persons (symptomatic or asymptomatic) with exposure of susceptible hosts.
  4. Exposure time. Exposure to contaminated air in the room even for a relatively short period of time (ie, >5-15 minutes) is likely to increase the risk of transmission.
  5. Activity of infected individual. Many activities such as singing, speaking loudly, eating, laughing, breathing heavily during exercise, coughing and sneezing may increase risk of Covid-19 transmission in indoor settings.

Recall that over one-half of Covid-19 transmissions are due to asymptomatic individuals.5 In this setting and in the presence of factors discussed above, it’s easy to see how transmission of Covid-19 in indoor settings can occur readily, possibly explaining cases without apparent source.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that the odds of Covid-19 transmission may be 18.7 times greater indoors compared to open-air environment and the odds of superspreading event in closed environments may be 32.6 times higher?4

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References

  1. Bahl P, Doolan C, de Silva C, et al. Airborne or droplet precautions for health workers treating coronavirus disease 2019? J Infect Dis 2020. Published online April 16, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32301491/
  2. Jones NR, Quereshi Z, Temple RJ, et al. Two metres or one: what is the evidence for physical distancing in covid-19? BMJ 2020;370:m3223. https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3223/rr-18
  3. Johansson MA, Quandelacy TM, Kada S, et al. SARS-CoV-2 transmission from people without COVID-19 symptoms. JAMA Network open. 2021;4():e2035057. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2774707?utm_source=For_The_Media&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ftm_links&utm_term=010721
  4. Nishiura H, Oshitani H, Kobayashi T, et al. Closed environments facilitate secondary transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). MedRxiv 2020. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.02.28.20029272v2.full.pdf
  5. Leclerc QJ, Fuller NM, Knight LE,e tal. What settings have been linked to SARS-CoV-2 transmission clusters? Wellcome Open Research October, 2020. https://wellcomeopenresearch.org/articles/5-83    

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Beyond masks and hand hygiene, what factors impact transmission of Covid-19 in indoor gatherings?

Is the discovery of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 expected to impact the transmissibility, clinical course or vaccine efficacy in Covid-19?

To date, the discovery of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 has raised concerns primarily around their association with higher than expected transmission rates, not increased severity, risk of death or impairment in vaccine efficacy. 1-5

The new variants of SARS-CoV-2—first recognized in the U.K (strain B.1.1.7), then South Africa (B.1.351), and now many parts of the world, including US and Canada—seem to be associated with higher rates of transmission without any evidence for more severe disease or hospitalization.3 Based on mathematical models, it is suggested that the new variant may be up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.1 However, it is important to point out that, to date, there are no published studies that corroborates this finding in laboratory animals and some have questioned whether these new strains are truly more transmissible.1

The B.1.1.7 strain has several mutations involving the spike protein (the surface  protein that attaches to host cells) at least 1 of which (N501Y) seems to improve the virus’s ability to bind to cells.1 Preliminary laboratory studies have also found higher viral replication rates in upper respiratory tract of hamsters when challenged with another SARS-CoV-2 variant with spike protein mutation (D614G) compared to the lungs.4  Both “stickiness” to cells and high replication rates in upper respiratory tract alone may explain more rapid spread of the virus without increased severity of disease.

Preliminary reports also suggest that that antibodies against the original strain  neutralize the B.1.1.7 strain, supporting the efficacy of the current Covid-19 vaccine in protecting against this strain.1

A theoretical concern, however, based on a preprint publication, is the suboptimal binding and neutralization of new strains by commercially available monoclonal antibodies.2

The potential increased transmissibility of new SARS-CoV-2 variants only underscores the importance of public health measure such as masks, social distancing and hand hygiene, now more than ever before!

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that despite lack of clear increase in the severity of disease associated with new variants of SARS-CoV-2, increased rate of transmission will lead to more people getting infected and therefore die from its complications. That’s why, more than ever before, we should double down our efforts to stick to public health measures to mask, social distance and exercise hand hygiene during this critical period of the pandemic. Please spread the word, again!

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References

  1. Reardon S. The U.K. coronavirus mutation is worrying but not terrifying. Scientific American. December 24, 2020. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-u-k-coronavirus-mutation-is-worrying-but-not-terrifying/
  2. Starr TN, Greaney AJ, Addetia A, et al. Prospective mapping of viral mutations that escape antibodies used to treat COVID-19. Bio Rxiv 2020. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.30.405472v1
  3. CDC. Interim: Implications of the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variant VOC 202012/01. Accessed Jan 12, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/scientific-brief-emerging-variant.html
  4. Plante JA, Liu Y, Liu J, et al. Spike mutation D614G alters SARS-CoV-2 fitness. Nature. Published online 26, 2020. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33106671/
  5. Baric RS. Emergence of a highly fit SARS-CoV-2 variant. N Engl J Med 2020; 383;2684-2686. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcibr2032888

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

Is the discovery of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 expected to impact the transmissibility, clinical course or vaccine efficacy in Covid-19?

What’s the connection between break rooms and transmission of Covid-19 in health care settings?

Emerging data suggest that healthcare workers (HCWs) may be at increased risk of Covid-19 in break rooms when consuming food or when in the presence of others without a mask.1-4

In a study of over 700 HCWs screened for SARS-CoV-2 by PCR at a university hospital, staying in the same personnel break room as an HCW without a medical mask for more than 15 min and consuming food within 1 meter of an HCW were significantly associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection.1 Consumption of food in break rooms by personnel was thereafter “forbidden” in this facility. Interestingly, 28% of infected personnel in this study lacked symptoms at the time of testing.

A recent outbreak at a Boston hospital involving both patients and HCWs months after institution of strict infection control measures (including universal masking of visitors and HCWs and PCR testing of all patients on admission) traced the outbreak to a variety of factors, including HCWs eating in crowded work rooms.2,3

A CDC study of risk factors among adults 18 years or older with Covid-19 in the community identified dining at a restaurant as significant risk factors for Covid-19.4

Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during eating or drinking is not surprising because masks cannot be effectively worn during food consumption. Combine eating or drinking with talking, laughing and suboptimal ventilation system and we have all the elements of perfect storm for transmission of Covid-19 during food breaks.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that, in addition to dining at a restaurant, patients with Covid-19 without known close contact with infected persons have reported higher likelihood of going to bar/coffee shop? 4

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References

 

  1. Celebi G, Piskin N, Beklevic AC, et al. Specific risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 transmission among health care workers in a university hospital. Am J Infect Control 2020;48:1225-30. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32771498/
  2. Freyer FJ. Brigham and Women’s hospital completes investigation of coronavirus outbreak. Boston Globe, October 19, 2020. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/10/19/metro/brigham-womens-hospital-completes-investigation-coronavirus-outbreak/
  3. Freyer FJ. At the Brigham, “battle-weary” staff may have allowed virus to slip in. Boston Globe, September 24, 2020. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/09/24/metro/brigham-womens-hospital-reports-cluster-10-covid-19-cases/
  4. Fisher KA, Tenforde MW, Felstein LR, et al. Community and close contact exposures associated with COVID-19 among symptomatic adults ≥18 years in 11 outpatient health care facilities—United States, July 2020. MMWR 2020;69:1258-64. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7499837/

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliates. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

 

 

What’s the connection between break rooms and transmission of Covid-19 in health care settings?

What’s the role of small droplets or aerosolized particles in the transmission of Covid-19?

Although transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is often considered to occur through large respiratory droplets by coughing or sneezing, emerging data suggests that smaller respiratory particles (5 microns or less) generated by breathing, speaking or singing also account for a sizeable number of infections. Several lines of evidence make a cogent argument for aerosols serving as an important mode of transmission for SARS-CoV-2. 1-9

 First, there are ample accounts of SARS-CoV-2 spreading by being near an infected individual without symptoms.  Since by definition, those without symptoms do not cough or sneeze transmission must have occurred through other means, including breathing, talking or touching surfaces that might have become secondarily contaminated through aerosol.1,2,5  To make matters worse, the peak of contagion in infected individuals occurs on or before symptoms occur.1

Second, aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to remain viable in the air for at least 3 hours and viral RNA (not necessarily viable virus) has been found in the air outside patient rooms and inside patient rooms in the absence of cough.2,9 One study found SARS-CoV-2 in outdoor air at a hospital entrance and in front of a department store.7

Third, contaminated air samples and long-range aerosol transport and transmission have been reported by several studies involving a related coronavirus, SARS-CoV-1, the agent of SARS.2

What’s the ramifications of aerosol transmission of Covid-19? The most obvious is the requirement for universal wearing of masks or face covers in public spaces even when 6 feet apart. This practice is particularly important indoors where the amount of ventilation, number of people, duration of stay in the facility, and airflow direction may impact the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.1

The other potential ramification of aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 is that due to their smaller size, these virus-laden particles may bypass the upper respiratory tract and be inhaled directly into the lungs resulting in more severe disease.4  So it really makes sense to routinely wear a mask when out in public places.

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that 1 minute of loud speaking could generate over 1000 virus-containing aerosols in the air with a “super-emitter” generating over 100,000 virus particles in their droplets during the same time?1

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 References

  1. Prather KA, Wang CC, Schooley RT. Reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Science. May 27, 2020.
  2. Anderson EL, Turnham P, Griffin JR, et al. Consideration of the aerosol transmission for COVID-19 and public health. Risk Analysis 2020;40:902-7.
  3. Hamner L, Dubbel P, Capron I, et al. High SARS-CoV-2 attack rate following exposure at a choir practice-Skagit County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR 2020; 69: 606-10.
  4. Gralton J, Tovey E, McLaws ML, et al. The role of particle size in aerosolized pathogen transmission: a review. J Infect 2011;62:1-13.
  5. Asadi S, Bouvier N, Wexler AS et al. The coronavirus pandemic and aerosols: does COVID-19 transmit via expiratory particles. Aerosol Sci Technol 2020;54:635-38.
  6. Morawska L, Cao J. Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2: the world should face the reality. Env International 2020;139:105730.
  7. Liu Y, Ning Z, Chen Y, e al. Aerodynamic analysis of SARS-CoV-2 in two Wuhan hospitals. Nature 2020;582:557-60. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2271-3.pdf
  8. Somsen GA, van Rijn C, Kooij S, et al. Small droplet aerosols in poorly ventilated spaces and SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Lancet Respir Med 2020; May 27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7255254/pdf/main.pdf

9. Santarpia JL, Rivera DN, Herrera V, et al. Transmission potential of SARS-CoV-2 in viral shedding observed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. 2020 (Preprint) https://www.ehs.ucsb.edu/files/docs/bs/Transmission_potential_of_SARS-CoV-2.pdf

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

What’s the role of small droplets or aerosolized particles in the transmission of Covid-19?

How can people with a respiratory virus such as Covid-19 be contagious even when they don’t cough or sneeze?

Couple of factors likely play a role in the transmission of respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 even in the absence of respiratory symptoms: 1. Generation of small droplets through everyday activities such as talking and breathing; 2. Presence of infectious virus in the respiratory tract before onset of symptoms.1-4

Small droplet generation during every day activity: Normal human speech and breathing can yield small particles or droplets that are too small to see by naked eye but are perfectly capable of serving as vehicles for aerial transport (more like hot air balloons than 737’s!) of a variety of communicable respiratory pathogens. 1  These small particles are believed to originate from the mucosal layers coating the respiratory tract as well as from vocal cord adduction and vibration within the larynx.1

In some cool experiments involving normal volunteers,1 the rate of particle emission during normal human speech positively correlated with the loudness of voice, ranging from 1-50 particles/second, irrespective of the language spoken (English, Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic).  Perhaps, equally intriguing was identification of “speech superemitters”, consistently releasing an order of magnitude more particles than other participants.

Simply counting out loud has been associated with around 2-10 times as many total particles emitted as a single cough, 2 and the percentage of airborne droplet nuclei generated by singing is several times more than that emitted during normal talking and more like that of coughing! 3 Given, these observations, perhaps, the unfortunate outbreak of Covid-19 among members of a church choir in state of Washington 5 is not totally unexpected.

Presence of infectious virus in persons without symptoms:  An estimated 18% to 75% of patients testing positive for Covid-19 have no symptoms. This of course means that irrespective of whether symptoms ever develop, persons with Covid-19 may serve as a source of infection, by just breathing, talking, or singing when around susceptible people.

For these reasons, social distancing and wearing of masks during a pandemic makes sense!

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that infectious viral particles can be recovered from 40% of breath samples of patients with influenza? 6

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 References

  1. Asadi S, Wexler AS, Cappa CD, et al. Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness. Scientific Reports 2019;9:2348. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6382806/
  2. Loudon RG, Roberts RM. Droplet expulsion from the respiratory tract. Am Rev Resp Dis 1967;435-42. https://doi.org/10.1164/arrd.1967.95.3.435
  3. Loudon RG, Roberts MR. Singing and the dissemination of tuberculosis. Am Rev Resp Dis 1968;98:297-300. DOI: 10.1164/arrd.1968.98.2.297 https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1164/arrd.1968.98.2.297?journalCode=arrd
  4. Lai KM, Bottomley C, McNerney. Propagation of respiratory aerosols by the Vuvuzela. PLoS One 2011;6:e20086. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3100331/
  5. Read R. A choir decided to go ahead with rehearsal. Now dozens of members have COVID-19 and two are dead. Los Angeles Times March 29, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-03-29/coronavirus-choir-outbreak
  6. Yan J, Grantham M, Pantelic J, et al. Infectious virus in exhaled breath of symptomatic seasonal influenza cases from a college community. PNAS 2018;115:1081-1086 https://www.pnas.org/content/115/5/1081

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

How can people with a respiratory virus such as Covid-19 be contagious even when they don’t cough or sneeze?

What’s the evidence that people without symptoms can transmit Covid-19 to those around them?

Rapid spread of Covid-19 virus has been attributed in large part to its ease of transmission from person to person even before symptoms develop, particularly since an estimated 18% to 75% of patients testing positive for Covid-19 have no symptoms. 1-4

Transmission before onset of symptoms (presymptomatic): Modeled estimates for the percentage of transmissions that occur from presymptomatic patients range from 37% to as high as 62% based on studies of patients in the cities of Tianjin and Guangzhou in China, as well as Singapore.5-7 Infectiousness appears to begin within 1-3 days prior to symptoms.8-10

Transmission when symptoms never develop (asymptomatic): Asymptomatic transmission was invoked in a familial cluster in Anyang, China where 5 patients developed Covid-19 after a 6th asymptomatic family member returned home from Wuhan, China. The asymptomatic patient never developed symptoms—such as fever or respiratory symptom— and had a normal chest CT, but briefly tested positive for Covid-19 by RT-PCR before testing negative later.11

It’s important to point out that up to ~75% of patients who are initially “asymptomatic” later develop symptoms. 12-14 So what we often call “asymptomatic” may actually be “presymptomatic.”

Transmission of Covid-19 before onset of symptoms is in distinct contrast to SARS, another coronavirus disease, which was transmitted only when a person was symptomatic and was easier to control. This unique property among coronaviruses may be explained by the high tropism of Covid-19 virus not only for the lungs (as in case of SARS virus) but also for the upper respiratory tract.15,16 As such, Covid-19 behaves more like influenza viruses whose upper respiratory tract binding is thought to promote their rapid transmission even before symptoms develop.17  No wonder, Covid-19 spread like wild fire!

 

Coauthor, Bruce Tiu, Harvard Medical Student, Boston, MA

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References

 

  1. Mizumoto K, Kagaya K, Zarebski A, et al. Estimating the asymptomatic proportion of coronavirus diseae 2019 (COID-19) cases on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Yokohama, Japan, 2020. Euro Surveill.2020;25(10):pii=2000180 https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.10.2000180?ftag=MSF0951a18
  2. Kimaball, A, Hatfield KM, Arons M, et al. Asymptomatic and presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections in residents of a long-term care skilled nursing facility—King County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR 2020;69:377-381. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913e1.htm
  3. Hu Z, Song C, Xu C, et al. Clinical characteristics of 24 asymptomatic infections with COVID-19 screened among close contacts in Nanjing, China. Sci China Life Sci 2020 Mar 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32146694
  4. Day M. Covid-19: identifying and isolating asymptomatic people helped eliminate virus in Italian village. BMJ 2020;368 https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1165
  5. He X, Lau E, Wu P, et al. Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19. medRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.15.20036707v2
  6. Ferretti L, Wymant C, Kendall M, et al. Quantifying SARS-CoV-2 transmission suggests epidemic control with digital contact tracing [published online ahead of print, 2020 Mar 31]. Science. 2020; eabb6936. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/03/30/science.abb6936
  7. Ganyani T, Kremer C, Chen D, et al. Estimating the generation interval for COVID-19 based on symptom onset data. medRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.05.20031815v1
  8. Wei WE, Li ZB, Chiew CJ, et al. Presymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 — Singapore, January 23–March 16, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 1 April 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6914e1.htm
  9. He X, Lau E, Wu P, et al. Temporal dynamics in viral shedding and transmissibility of COVID-19. medRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.15.20036707v2
  10. Rothe C, Schunk M, Sothmann P, et al. Transmission of 2019-nCoV Infection from an Asymptomatic Contact in Germany. N Engl J Med. 2020;382(10):970–971. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2001468
  11. Bai Y, Yao L, Wei T, et al. Presumed Asymptomatic Carrier Transmission of COVID-19 [published online ahead of print, 2020 Feb 21]. JAMA. 2020;e202565. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762028
  12. Kimball A, Hatfield KM, Arons M, et al. Asymptomatic and Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections in Residents of a Long-Term Care Skilled Nursing Facility — King County, Washington, March 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:377–381 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6913e1.htm
  13. Chen, C. “What We Need to Understand About Asymptomatic Carriers if We’re Going to Beat Coronavirus”. ProPublica. 2020. https://www.propublica.org/article/what-we-need-to-understand-about-asymptomatic-carriers-if-were-going-to-beat-coronavirus
  14. WHO. Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). 2020. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf
  15. Woelfel R, Corman VM, Guggemos W, et al. Clinical presentation and virological assessment of hospitalized cases of coronavirus disease 2019 in a travel-associated transmission cluster. medRxiv. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.05.20030502v1
  16. Peiris JS, Chu CM, Cheng VC, et al. Clinical progression and viral load in a community outbreak of coronavirus-associated SARS pneumonia: a prospective study. Lancet. 2003;361(9371):1767–1772. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(03)13412-5/fulltext
  17. van Riel D, den Bakker MA, Leijten LM, et al. Seasonal and pandemic human influenza viruses attach better to human upper respiratory tract epithelium than avian influenza viruses. Am J Pathol. 2010;176(4):1614–1618. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/6/20-0357_article

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!

What’s the evidence that people without symptoms can transmit Covid-19 to those around them?

What’s the evidence that respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces?

Although no published data specific to Covid-19 is yet available, transmission by contact with contaminated surfaces has been implicated in infections due to several respiratory viruses, such as other human coronaviruses and influenza viruses. 1,2

A 2020 review article involving 22 published studies found that human coronaviruses such as SARS, MERS or common cold coronaviruses (eg, HCoV-229E) can persist on inanimate surfaces (eg, metal, glass or plastic) for hours up to 9 days depending on the level of initial viral contamination.1  

A recent NEJM study reported Covid-19 persisting  for 72 h on plastic and 48 h on stainless steel (3). Shorter survival was observed on cardboard (24 h or less) and copper surface (4 h or less). Although data on transmissibility of coronaviruses from contaminated surfaces to hands is not currently available, at least in the case of influenza A, a contact time of 5 seconds may transfer 31.6% of the viral load to the hands.4

But hand contamination doesn’t necessarily stop there.  We constantly touch our faces, including nose, eyes, and mouth, all serving as potential entry points for the virus.   One study found that, on average, subjects touched their faces 23 times per hour, with nearly one-half of that time involving either the nose, eyes or mouth. 5 Another study reported touching one’s face on average 19 times in a 2-hour period (range 0-105 times!).

For these reasons, environmental decontamination and hand hygiene have been stressed as part of the ongoing strategies to limit Covid-19 spread.

The good news is that coronaviruses are efficiently inactivated by many of the commonly available disinfectants and antiseptics, including 62%-71% ethanol, 70% isopropyl alcohol, 1:50 dilution of household bleach, and 0.5% hydrogen peroxide. 1

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References

  1. Kampf G, Todt D, Pfaender S, et al. Persistence of coronavirus on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. J Hosp Infect 2020;104:246-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32035997
  2. Otter JA, Donskey C, Yezli S, et al. Transmission of SARS and MERS coronaviruses and influenza virus in healthcare settings: the possible role of dry surface contamination. J Hosp Infect 2016;92:235-250. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26597631/
  3.  van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med 2020, March 17. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
  4. Bean B, Moore BM, Sterner B, et al. Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces. J Infect Dis 1982;146:47-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6282993
  5. Kwok YL, Garlton J, McLaws ML. Face touching: a frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene. Am J Infect Control 2015;43:112-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25637115
  6. Elder NC, Sawyer W, Pallerla H, et al. Hand hygiene and face touching in family medicine offices: a Cincinnati Area Research and Improvement group (CARInG) Network Study. J Am Board Fam Med 2014;27:339-346. https://www.jabfm.org/content/27/3/339.long
What’s the evidence that respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces?

Catch these selected key clinical pearls on coronavirus disease (Covid-19)!

Although the Covid-19 pandemic is continuing to evolve and our knowledge of its epidemiology and pathophysiology is still far from complete, you may find the following pearls based on published literature to date useful when discussing this disease with your colleagues or the public. 1-11

  • Age group: Primarily an adult disease. Children (< 15-year-old) account for only a minority of symptomatic patients (<1%); ~50% of patients are between 15-49 years of age with 15% in the ≥ 65 year group. 1
  • Incubation period: A bit longer than seasonal flu. Median 4.0 days (IQR 2.0-7.0 days); an upper range up to 24 days has also been reported. In contrast, for seasonal flu the median incubation period is shorter (median 2.0 days, 1.0-7.0 days. 1,4,11
  • Transmission: Contact, droplet, and possibly airborne. On average each person may transmit Covid-19 virus to 2-3 other persons (vs <2 people for seasonal flu). Unlike SARS or MERS, but more akin to the seasonal flu, asymptomatic persons may also be able to transmit the disease. 4,5,11
  • Comorbid conditions (eg, diabetes, hypertension, COPD…): Present in about 1/3 of reported patients. 1
  • Symptoms 1,5
    • ~80% of patients may be either asymptomatic or have mild disease
    • Fever may be absent in ~50% of patients on presentation but will eventually develop in ~90% of hospitalized patients
    • Cough (2/3 dry) is present in majority (~80%) of cases
    • Rhinorrhea is uncommon (<10%), in contrast to the seasonal influenza
    • GI symptoms (nausea/vomiting/diarrhea) are uncommon by some reports(<10%), but not by others (>30.0%). 12
    • May take 9-12 days from onset of symptoms to severe disease
  • Labs 1
    • Lymphopenia is common (up to ~80%)
    • Abnormal liver function (AST and ALT) is found in about 1/3 of patients
    • C-reactive protein (CRP) is usually elevated (~80% of severe cases)
    • Procalcitonin is usually normal
  • Treatment: Supportive for now. Candidate drugs include remdesivir, lopinavir/ritonavir, chloroquine phosphate, ribavirin and several others.4
  • Mortality: Reported mortality among mostly symptomatic hospitalized cases is ~2.0% (0.9% without comorbidities, 5-10% in those with comorbidities, 50% among critically ill). Overall mortality rates will likely drop as more patients without symptoms or with mild disease are tested. In contrast, 2 other coronavirus diseases, SARS and MERS, have mortality rates of ~9.0% and 36.0%, respectively. 1,4,5

 

Bonus pearl: Did you know that, Covid-19-infected patients shed the virus in their nasopharyngeal secretions on the average for 12 days, some as long as 24 days?3

 

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References

  1. Guan W, Ni Z, Hu Y, et al. Clinical characteristics of Coronavirus disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med 2020. First published Feb 28, 220, last updated March 6, 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa2002032
  2. Holshue ML, DeBolt C, Lindquist S, et al. First case of 2019 novel Coronavirus in the United States. N Engl J Med 2020; 382:929-36. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2001191
  3. Young BE, Ong SWX, Kalimuddin S, et al. Epidemiologic features and clinical course of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Singapore. JAMA. Doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3204. Published online March 3, 2020. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762688
  4. Wang Y, Wang Y, Chen Y, et al. Unique epidemiological and clinical features of the emerging 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19) implicate special control measures. J Med Virol 2020. Doi: 10.1002/jmv.25748. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32134116
  5. Fauci AS, Lane HC, Redfield RR. Covid-19—Navigating the uncharted. N Eng J Med 2020. DOI:10.1056/NEJMe2002387. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe2002387
  6. Del Rio C, Malani PN. 2019 novel coronavirus—important information for clinicians. JAMA 2020, Feb 5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32022836
  7. Lipsitch M, Swerdlow DL, Finelli L. Defining the epidemiology of Covid-19—studies needed. N Engl J Med 2020. Feb 19. DOI:10.1056/NEJMp2002125. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32074416/
  8. Morens DM, Daszak P, Taubenberger JK. Escaping Pandora’s box—another novel coronavirus. N Eng J Med 2020. Feb 26. DOI:10.1056/NEJMp2002106. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2002106
  9. She J, Jiang J, Ye L, et al. 2019 novel coronavirus of pneumonia in Wuhan, China: merging attack and management strategies. Clin Trans Med 2020;9:19. https://clintransmed.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40169-020-00271-z
  10. Huang C, Wang Y, Li X, et al. Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. Lancet 2020; 395: 497-506. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30183-5/fulltext
  11. Bai Y, Yao L, Wei T, et al. Presumed asymptomatic carrier transmission of COVID-19. JAMA 2020. Feb 21. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762028
  12. Pan L, Mu M, Yang P, et al. Clinical characteristics of COVID-19 patients with digestive symptoms in Hubei, China: a descriptive, cross-sectional, multicenter study. Am j Gastroenterol 2020. https://journals.lww.com/ajg/Documents/COVID_Digestive_Symptoms_AJG_Preproof.pdf
Catch these selected key clinical pearls on coronavirus disease (Covid-19)!