Using data on social contacts to estimate age-specific transmission parameters for respiratory-spread infectious agents

Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Nov 15;164(10):936-44. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwj317. Epub 2006 Sep 12.


The estimation of transmission parameters has been problematic for diseases that rely predominantly on transmission of pathogens from person to person through small infectious droplets. Age-specific transmission parameters determine how such respiratory agents will spread among different age groups in a human population. Estimating the values of these parameters is essential in planning an effective response to potentially devastating pandemics of smallpox or influenza and in designing control strategies for diseases such as measles or mumps. In this study, the authors estimated age-specific transmission parameters by augmenting infectious disease data with auxiliary data on self-reported numbers of conversational partners per person. They show that models that use transmission parameters based on these self-reported social contacts are better able to capture the observed patterns of infection of endemically circulating mumps, as well as observed patterns of spread of pandemic influenza. The estimated age-specific transmission parameters suggested that school-aged children and young adults will experience the highest incidence of infection and will contribute most to further spread of infections during the initial phase of an emerging respiratory-spread epidemic in a completely susceptible population. These findings have important implications for controlling future outbreaks of novel respiratory-spread infectious agents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / transmission*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires