- A team of researchers analyzed 54 COVID-19 studies with more than 77,000 patients and found that the most likely people to pass the novel coronavirus to others are adults in the home.
- People are more likely to infect their spouses and transmission to adults is more likely than to children. Crowded rooms are likely to favor at-home transmission.
- The study is another warning that people should take extra precautions before deciding to hold Christmas gatherings this year.
The US continues to experience a massive coronavirus surge as we head into the Christmas holiday, and there seems to be no end in sight. More than 247,400 cases were reported and more than 3,600 people died of COVID-19 complications on Wednesday, plus more than 113,000 people are currently hospitalized — those are all new records. The actual number of people getting infected each day is likely much higher than that since not everyone gets tested, and asymptomatic people would not have any reason to suspect an infection. Most countries in Europe are experiencing record waves this winter as well, and many of them have new lockdowns in place to keep the infection in check.
Several factors drive the spread of the virus. The coronavirus is quite infectious, especially at this time of year when more people congregate in indoor settings. Some people still don’t observe face mask and social distancing rules. Pandemic fatigue is also something that’s impacting people who would otherwise adhere to public health measures meant to prevent COVID-19 transmission. But a new study tells us that the people most likely to give you COVID-19 are the people in the one place where everybody drops their guard.
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Health experts have warned that household transmission continues to be a major problem, especially during the winter season. It’s not just the cold that’s driving more people indoors. Events like Thanksgiving and Christmas will favor the spread of COVID-19, as many people travel home for the holidays. That’s why the CDC keeps advising people not to travel or gather for Christmas this year.
A team of researchers analyzed data from 54 COVID-19 studies totaling 77,758 participants and determined that the household secondary attack rate for COVID-19 was at 16.6%, higher than SARS and MERS.
“Households are favorable environments for transmission,” the researchers wrote. “They are what are known as 3Cs environments, as they are closed spaces, where family members may crowd and be in close contact with conversation. There may be reduced use of personal protective equipment relative to other settings.”
The researcher found that symptomatic cases were more likely to transmit the novel coronavirus to other household members than asymptomatic — that’s 18% vs. 0.7%. They also said that transmission between spouses was more likely than between other family members and that adults were more likely to infect other adults than children. The spread of COVID-19 was also more likely in households with one other person than in homes with 3 or more contacts.
“Intimacy, sleeping in the same room, or longer or more direct exposure to index cases” might explain why spouses are more likely to infect each other.
The researchers also note that household crowding (number of people per room) may be more important for coronavirus transmission than the number of people in the home.
“The findings of this study suggest that households are and will continue to be important venues for transmission, even where community transmission is reduced. Prevention strategies, such as increased mask-wearing at home, improved ventilation, voluntary isolation at external facilities, and targeted antiviral prophylaxis, should be further explored,” the researchers concluded.
Also important to remember is that people who get infected will be contagious up to a couple of days before showing any symptoms. This could further place other family members in danger of contracting the illness. If flu or cold symptoms appear, it would be advisable to consider them signs of COVID-19 and self-isolate from other household members to reduce the risk of infection. A PCR test will be needed to diagnose the illness correctly.