UT researchers calculate ‘serial interval’ of coronavirus, could help in containment effort

lauren meyers

Lauren Ancel Meyers, computational epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, in her office. (Nexstar Photo/Juan Salinas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin studying the novel coronavirus have identified how quickly it can spread, the university said in a release Monday.

The time between cases in a chain of transmission is less than a week, researchers say, and more than 10% of patients are infected by somebody who has the virus but does not yet have symptoms.

A team of infectious disease researchers from the U.S., France, China and Hong Kong were able to calculate the “serial interval” of the virus, meaning the time it takes for symptoms to appear in two people with the virus — the person who infects another, and the infected second person.

Researchers found that the average serial interval for the novel coronavirus in China is around four days.

Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology at UT, compared the serial interval of the novel coronavirus to that of ebola and influenza.

“Ebola, with a serial interval of several weeks, is much easier to contain than influenza, with a serial interval of only a few days,” Meyers said. “The data suggest that this coronavirus may spread like the flu. That means we need to move quickly and aggressively to curb the emerging threat.”

Meyers said her team examined more than 450 infection case reports from 93 cities in China and found the strongest evidence yet that people without symptoms must be transmitting the virus.

“Our findings are corroborated by instances of silent transmission and rising case counts in hundreds of cities worldwide,” Meyers said. “This tells us that COVID-19 outbreaks can be elusive and require extreme measures.”

The paper with all the findings will be published in the scholarly journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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