Since the virus’ breakout in December 2019, scientists have been struggling to find out how the highly contagious disease spreads and how quickly. With over 70,000 confirmed cases and over 2,000 deaths worldwide, the answer to how quickly the virus spreads is more vital than ever.
A team of researchers, which set out to examine several scientific studies of the new virus, published the results in the Journal of Travel Medicine.
Professor of sustainable health at Umeå University in Sweden Joacim Rocklöv is the corresponding author of the new analysis.
Mr Rocklöv and his team explained that the basic reproduction number (R0) describes the average number of new infections a person can generate in a population that was not exposed to the virus.
An R0 greater than one suggests that the number of people infected is likely to grow.
However, an R0 of less than one suggests that the viral transmission “is likely to die out.”
The authors wrote in the paper: “The basic reproduction number is a central concept in infectious disease epidemiology, indicating the risk of an infectious agent with respect to epidemic spread.”
The studies took place between January 1 and February 7 this year.
The 12 studies they did selected an estimated R0 for the virus in China and overseas.
The estimates ranged from 1.4 to 6.49, with an average of 3.28 and a median of 2.79.
Both the averages are significantly higher than the WHO’s suggested estimates which were between 1.4 and 2.5.
The authors did explain that the initial studies reported lower R0 values which then spiked and returned to the initial estimates.
The reason there were these differences is because of the methods the authors used.
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They wrote: “The studies using stochastic and statistical methods for deriving R0 provide estimates that are reasonably comparable.
“However, the studies using mathematical methods produce estimates that are, on average, higher.”
Mr Rocklöv said: “Our review shows that the coronavirus is at least as transmissible as the SARS virus.
“And that says a great deal about the seriousness of the situation.”
He continued: “When looking at the development of the corona epidemic, reality seems to correspond well to or even exceed the highest epidemic growth in our calculations.
“Despite all intervention and control activities, the coronavirus has already spread to a significantly higher extent than SARS did.”
However, the scientists also said that because of the short onset of the virus and a lack of data, the current estimates for the basic R0 could be biased.
The authors wrote: “However, as more data is accumulated, estimation error can be expected to decrease, and a clearer picture should form.
“Based on these considerations, R0 for 2019-nCoV is expected to be around 2–3, which is broadly consistent with the WHO estimate.”
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