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Estimating variability in the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome to household contacts in Hong Kong, China.

May 10, 2007

The extensive data collection and contact tracing that occurred during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Hong Kong, China, allowed the authors to examine how the probability of transmission varied from the date of symptom onset to the date of hospitalization for household contacts of SARS patients. Using a discrete-time likelihood model, the authors estimated the transmission probability per contact for each day following the onset of symptoms. The results suggested that there may be two peaks in the probability of SARS transmission, the first occurring around day 2 after symptom onset and the second occurring approximately 10 days after symptom onset. Index patients who were aged 60 years or older or whose lactate dehydrogenase level was elevated upon admission to the hospital (indicating higher viral loads) were more likely to transmit SARS to their contacts. There was little variation in the daily transmission probabilities before versus after the introduction of public health interventions on or around March 26, 2003. This study suggests that the probability of transmission of SARS is dependent upon characteristics of the index patients and does not simply reflect temporal variability in the viral load of SARS cases.