The King Laboratory
of Theoretical Ecology & Evolution
at the University of Michigan

Socially structured human movement shapes dengue transmission despite the diffusive effect of mosquito dispersal

R. C. Reiner, S. T. Stoddard, and T. W. Scott
Epidemics 6:  30–36, 2014.

For sexually and directly transmitted infectious diseases, social connections influence transmission because they determine contact between individuals. For pathogens that are indirectly transmitted by arthropod vectors, the movement of the vectors is thought to diminish the role of social connections. Results from a recent study of mosquito-borne dengue virus (DENV), however, indicate that human movement alone can explain significant spatial variation in urban transmission rates. Because movement patterns are structured by social ties, this result suggests that social proximity may be a good predictor of infection risk for DENV and other pathogens transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Here we investigated the effect of socially structured movement on DENV transmission using a spatially explicit, agent-based transmission model. When individual movements overlap to a high degree within social groups we were able to recreate infection patterns similar to those detected in dengue-endemic, northeastern Peru. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that social proximity drives fine-scale heterogeneity in DENV transmission rates, a result that was robust to the influence of mosquito dispersal. This heterogeneity in transmission caused by socially structured movements appeared to be hidden by the diffusive effect of mosquito dispersal in aggregated infection dynamics, which implies this heterogeneity could be present and active in real dengue systems without being easily noticed. Accounting for socially determined, overlapping human movements could substantially improve the efficiency and efficacy of dengue surveillance and disease prevention programs as well as result in more accurate estimates of important epidemiological quantities, such as R0.

The official version of the paper is here.  

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