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What is a viral load and what does it have to do with COVID?

A viral load is what allows a sickness like COVID to spread from one person to another. The load is how much of the virus a person gets from someone else’s infection and what they expose others to.

There are two ways to measure, though one is more accurate according to Luis Shang, professor of virology at Cornell University.

He said one measure shows the total infectivity a person gets, and the other measures the viral genome.


Shang says it’s almost impossible to measure a large amount of viral load, also known as infectious RNA, in the genome.

He explains that if there is a room with 5 infected people, the viral load will be higher than if there was only 1 person in the room.

People shed the virus, which is how it’s transmitted to another person.

When describing the shedding of the flu virus, he explains there are two factors; one is the viral load in the respiratory track. The more there is the more that will shed.

The other is the viral load left behind in the air, something that can impact immunocompromised people.



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