OPEN Annals of internal medicine | 18 Sep 2020
EA Meyerowitz, A Richterman, RT Gandhi and PE Sax
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the etiologic agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has spread globally in a few short months. Substantial evidence now supports preliminary conclusions about transmission that can inform rational, evidence-based policies and reduce misinformation on this critical topic. This article presents a comprehensive review of the evidence on transmission of this virus. Although several experimental studies have cultured live virus from aerosols and surfaces hours after inoculation, the real-world studies that detect viral RNA in the environment report very low levels, and few have isolated viable virus. Strong evidence from case and cluster reports indicates that respiratory transmission is dominant, with proximity and ventilation being key determinants of transmission risk. In the few cases where direct contact or fomite transmission is presumed, respiratory transmission has not been completely excluded. Infectiousness peaks around a day before symptom onset and declines within a week of symptom onset, and no late linked transmissions (after a patient has had symptoms for about a week) have been documented. The virus has heterogeneous transmission dynamics: Most persons do not transmit virus, whereas some cause many secondary cases in transmission clusters called “superspreading events.” Evidence-based policies and practices should incorporate the accumulating knowledge about transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to help educate the public and slow the spread of this virus.
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