Coronavirus Chronicles — Superemitters, Good Atomizers, Silent Spreaders, and Superspreaders

Superemitters and good atomizers are people whose bodies for some reason go above and beyond the call of duty, in terms of pushing viruses out into the world. People who experience cold winters have watched clouds of water vapor issue from others’ mouths, in the phenomenon known as “seeing your breath.”

In the picture on this page, the fellow has nicotine and other chemicals coming out of him, but imagine that instead, the particles are millions of invitations to the worst experience of your life, a case of the COVID-19. How close to this person would you want to stand? Wouldn’t it be great if one or both of you wore a face covering?

Science used to believe that when someone coughs or sneezes most of the germs land within a foot and a half of the expulsion point. For, Atul Gawande described a study conducted in the 1940s:

[O]ne recruit spewed large quantities of bacteria into petri dishes and air samplers almost ten feet away. “This subject,” the report noted, “was really an unusually good atomizer.”

It has now become well recognized that, under the right conditions of temperature, humidity, and air circulation, forceful coughing or sneezing can propel a cloudburst of respiratory droplets more than twenty feet.

A good atomizer can be a superspreader. By now, the lore of the coronavirus is filled with stories of superspreader events. Sadly, many of them are sponsored by churches. There’s the choir practice where one very infectious woman got dozens of people sick. In his article for, health and science journalist Robert Roy Britt explains,

People with the coronavirus can be infectious two to three days before symptoms start, during a period called incubation. Some carriers, particularly younger people, may spread the disease and never have any symptoms. These people, a subset of superspreaders, are called “silent spreaders.”

What about kids? The odds of a child (especially if not obese) getting the disease are slight. But when they do, the results can be horrible.

Or they might have no symptoms of illness at all, and function as extremely efficient little superspreaders. Parents of small children are full of stories about the germs their kids bring home from preschool. Affectionate children tend to hug. Kids are not always conscientious about keeping their secretions to themselves.

Gawande wrote, “At the right point in the illness, under the right environmental and social conditions, one person can produce a disaster.” Can that person be a child?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry,”, 05/13/20
Source: “The Science of Superspreaders,”, 06/04/20
Image by BY 2.0)

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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