Boston: COVID-19 super-spreading events, in which one person infected with the novel coronavirus transmits it to many other people, play an “outsized role” in the overall spread of the disease, according to a new study which says preventing large gatherings could significantly curb the pandemic. Also Read - Coronavirus Vaccine Likely to Reach Cold Storage Points in Delhi by December End

The study, published in the journal PNAS, assessed about 60 super-spreading events, revealing that events where one person infects more than six other people are much more common than would be expected if the transmission patterns followed statistical distributions commonly used in epidemiology. Also Read - Decoded: Here’s How Airflow Pattern Inside A Car Can Affect COVID-19 Transmission Risk

Based on their findings, the scientists, including those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, developed a mathematical model of COVID-19 transmission, which they used to show that limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people could significantly reduce the overall number of infections. Also Read - Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij Tests Positive, Days After Getting Trial Dose of Bharat Biotech's Vaccine Covaxin

“Super-spreading events are likely more important than most of us had initially realised. Even though they are extreme events, they are probable and thus are likely occurring at a higher frequency than we thought,” said James Collins, senior author of the new study.

“If we can control the super-spreading events, we have a much greater chance of getting this pandemic under control,” Collins said.

For the novel coronavirus, the scientists said the “basic reproduction number” is around three, meaning that on average, each person infected with the virus spreads it to about three other people.

However, they said this number varies widely from person to person, with some who don’t spread the disease to anyone else, while “super-spreaders” infect dozens of individuals.

“We figured that an analysis that’s rooted in looking at super-spreading events and how they happened in the past can inform how we should propose strategies of dealing with, and better controlling, the outbreak,” said Felix Wong, another study co-author from MIT.

Typically, events in which the disease spreads to dozens of people would be considered very unlikely, they said. However, the MIT team found that this was not the case for coronavirus super-spreading events.

The scientists found that even though super-spreading events are extreme, they are still likely to occur.

Based on results, the researchers said preventing super-spreading events could have a significant impact on the overall transmission of COVID-19.