University of Utah biomedical researchers embarked on a study of mucus’ role in spreading coronaviruses to explore opening up treatment options for COVID-19. The 80-20 rule governs the spread of viruses: about 20% of infected people are responsible are for 80% of new transmissions.
Why are there Differences
According to Jessica Kramer, University of Utah assistant professor of biomedical engineering, “we don’t really know why” some people spread more viruses than others. It’s an open question. They could product higher amounts of virus just in their cells. But another possibility is if the virus interacts strongly with the mucus, every time they cough, they’re coughing a huge amount of virus, more than somebody else.”
The Problem with Mucus
Mucus is involved in spreading illness in a couple ways, including 1) when an infected individual coughs or sneezes they shoot mucus containing the virus into the air, and 2) mucus is involved in the way the virus enters into the next victim’s body as it is either inhaled or contract via a touch on a surface that has the virus and then touch their nose, mouth or eyes. Perhaps mucus keeps the virus more viable in some ways as the enveloped virus travels through the air.
Mucus is Diverse Like People
Mucus contains hundreds of different types of proteins and can be impacted by underlying preexisting conditions from cancer or cystic fibrosis to lifestyle factor such as smoking and genetic factors, reports Ashely Imlay with the Deseret News.
Super Spreaders Nothing New
As it turns out super spreaders are not a unique phenomena to coronavirus. They exist across viruses for example—spreading any airborne disease at a higher rate than others. The Utah researchers highlighted that bad hygiene isn’t a factor contrary to what many believe.
The Utah Study
The University of Utah researchers seek to produce synthetic mucus via chemistry—they will strive to breakdown and analyze each individual structure inside the mucus to better understand its biology. They will identify and isolate amino acids and sugars will go into making the mucus, and thereafter the researchers will chemically modify them trough a series of reactions. The University of Utah Hospital will provide mucus samples.
The goal of this study involves a better understanding of whose mucus is more likely to spread the virus and by association, better ways to track who’s at risk of contracting the virus which helps a more ready public health apparatus for purposes of quarantine in future outbreaks.
Readiness for Future Coronaviruses
Most experts believe that the advent of SARS-CoV-2 is just the beginning—that waves of new coronaviruses are unfortunately in the future.
Jessica Kramer, University of Utah assistant professor of biomedical engineering