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worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine on January 23. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images
The first piece of evidence, a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet earlier this month, suggests that people who are infected with COVID-19 but have lower viral loads in the back of their nose and throat are much less likely to infect others.
In the study, conducted in Spain during March and April, scientists measured how much virus 314 coronavirus patients had during their infections by swabbing way up inside their noses (nasopharynx) and measuring their viral loads.
Then they looked at which of those patients transmitted the coronavirus to someone else.
They found that the higher a patient’s viral load was, the more likely they were to pass their illness on to someone they came in contact with. And the higher the spreader’s viral load was, the faster the person they infected tended to get sick.
“In other words, higher viral load, good transmissibility, low viral load, very poor transmissibility,” Fauci said.
Until now, it wasn’t known whether viral load affected infectiousness, so there was some concern that even people with low levels of virus could spread their illnesses around well.
But it’s important to note that this study was performed nearly a year ago, when there wasn’t as much concern about fast-spreading variants, so it’s tough to interpret what it means for viral load and infectiousness now.
Vaccinated people seem to have less virus to spread around, even if they do get sick
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