U of U studies coronavirus “super-spreaders” and their mucus

Mar 31, 2020, 12:19 PM
Grant to study super spreaders...
A University of Utah researcher has received an emergency grant to study how "super spreaders" more rapidly spread the COVID-19 coronavirus.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A University of Utah researcher is getting an urgent government grant to study the transmission of coronaviruses, Specifically she’ll study how so-called “super-spreaders” account for so many infections during an outbreak.

“Mucus is at the center of the story,” said Doctor Jessica Kramer on  KSL Newsradio’s ‘Utah’s Morning News’ with Tim and Amanda.

‘Super-spreaders’ and COVID-19

The slimy bodily fluid can transmit COVID-19 and other coronaviruses in small airborne droplets. But some people seem to transmit the viruses more than others.

“Actually, only 20% of individuals are thought to contribute to 80% percent of transmissions. And it’s not simply poor hygiene,” said Kramer.

Not much is known about how these “super-spreaders” are created. Researchers want to know why some people exposed to coronaviruses do not track them to others. Mucus could be the answer to those questions.

“Our new grant is to study how the different qualities of mucus may explain this phenomenon,” said Kramer.

A $200,000 one-year Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant was awarded to Dr. Kramer, an assistant biomedical engineering professor.  The grant was awarded by the National Science Foundation

The mucus of ‘super-spreaders’ is different

Not everybody’s mucus is the same. It can vary from person to person based on everything from genetics to diet. Many different proteins make up mucus. Coronaviruses bond to specific proteins. Super-spreaders might have something in common, and it could be in their mucus.

“The coronavirus might actually be able to bind to the mucus of some people, but not others.”

Dr. Jessica Kramer, University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor. (Photo: University of Utah)

According to a University release, Dr. Kramer’s lab will create different forms of synthetic mucins.  They’ll use special aerosols to simulate coughing, and they’ll see how different mucins carry non-hazardous versions of coronaviruses.

Listen here to the interview with Dr. Jessica Kramer on Utah’s Morning News with Tim and Amanda:

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U of U studies coronavirus “super-spreaders” and their mucus