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Coronavirus spreads quickly, before people show symptoms, says study

HOUSTON: Researchers, studying the novel coronavirus, have found that the time between cases in a chain of transmission is less than a week, and over 10 per cent of patients are infected by someone who has the virus, but does not show symptoms yet, a finding that may help public health officials contain the pandemic.

The study, published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, estimated what’s called the serial interval of the coronavirus by measuring the time it takes for symptoms to appear in two people with the virus — the person who infects another, and the infected second

According to the researchers, including those from the University of Texas at Austin, the average serial interval for the novel coronavirus in China was approximately four days.

They said the speed of an epidemic depends on two things — how many people each case infects, and how long it takes cases to spread.

The first quantity, the scientists said, is called the reproduction number, and the second is the serial interval.

Due to the short serial interval of the disease caused by the coronavirus — COVID-19 — they said, emerging outbreaks will grow quickly, and could be difficult to stop.

“Ebola, with a serial interval of several weeks, is much easier to contain than influenza, with a serial interval of only a few days,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, study co-author from UT Austin.

Meyers explained that public health responders to Ebola outbreaks have much more time to identify and isolate cases before they infect others.