Infection transmission science and models

Jpn J Infect Dis. 2005 Dec;58(6):S3-8.


Infection transmission systems circulate infection through complex contact patterns related to both contact patterns and patterns of factors that affect the risk of transmission given contact. The nonlinear dynamics of infection transmission cause these patterns to make big differences in population infection levels. A science of infection transmission system analysis is needed to focus on those details that affect the control of infection transmission. This science must have a strong theoretical base because there is little chance that a dominantly data based approach not using mechanistic models of transmission will have any predictive value. The theoretical base should be built on linked transmission system models that are focused on making needed inferences for both building the theoretical base and making infection control decisions. The linking of different models is needed for a strategy of inference robustness assessment that is designed to find the model that is simple enough to effectively analyze the transmission system but not so simple that realistic violation of simplifying assumptions will change an inference. Types of models that should be used in such linked analyses include deterministic and stochastic compartmental models, discrete individual models with individual event histories but structured mass action mixing, network models that provide more detail as to who has contact with whom, and intermediate model forms such as correlation models that address some aspects of contact details while preserving the flexibility of deterministic compartmental models to structure mixing and analyze the system. While transmission system science is currently weak in regards both to its data base and its theory base, many things are now coming together that could make this science flourish. On the data side these include greater ability to detect infectious agent sequences in the environment and greater ability to sequence and genetically relate agents identified at different sites in the transmission system. On the theory sides, new model construction and model analysis methods are providing new potential to use the new sources of data. Also new parameter estimation methods provide new potential to combine models and data in effective analytic strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Statistical