We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham Research Online
You are in:

COVID-19 super-spreaders : definitional quandaries and implications.

Cave, Emma (2020) 'COVID-19 super-spreaders : definitional quandaries and implications.', Asian bioethics review., 12 (2). pp. 235-242.


Uncertainty around the role ‘super-spreaders’ play in the transmission and escalation of infectious disease is compounded by its broad and vague definition. It is a term that has been much used in relation to COVID-19, particularly in social media. On its widest definition, it refers to a propensity to infect a larger than average number of people. Given the biological, behavioural and environmental variables relevant to infectivity, this might be pertinent to almost any infected individual who is not physically isolated from others. Nor is the term confined to individuals with a propensity to spread infectious disease: it can potentially be used to describe events, policies or settings. This article explores the use of the term and considers circumstances in which the wide definition can be problematic. One problem is that it can lead to undeserved apportionment of moral blame to alleged super-spreaders. Another is that it can detract from scientific investigation of the heterogeneity of COVID-19 transmission. The author calls for a clearer epidemiological definition.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Superspreader, COVID-19, Confidentiality, Medical law
Full text:(VoR) Version of Record
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution.
Download PDF (Advance online version)
Full text:(VoR) Version of Record
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution.
Download PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Date accepted:05 May 2020
Date deposited:20 May 2020
Date of first online publication:16 May 2020
Date first made open access:20 May 2020

Save or Share this output

Look up in GoogleScholar