Dynamics and control of infections transmitted from person to person through the environment

Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Jul 15;170(2):257-65. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp116. Epub 2009 May 27.


The environment provides points for control of pathogens spread by food, water, hands, air, or fomites. These environmental transmission pathways require contact network formulations more realistically detailed than those based on social encounters or physical proximity. As a step toward improved assessment of environmental interventions, description of contact networks, and better use of environmental specimens to analyze transmission, an environmental infection transmission system model that describes the dynamics of human interaction with pathogens in the environment is presented. Its environmental parameters include the pathogen elimination rate, mu, and the rate humans pick up pathogens, rho, and deposit them, alpha. The ratio, rhoN/micro (N equals population size), indicates whether transmission is density dependent (low ratio), frequency dependent (high ratio), or in between. Transmission through frequently touched fomites, such as doorknobs, generates frequency-dependent patterns, while transmission through thoroughly mixed air or infrequently touched fomites generates density-dependent patterns. The environmental contamination ratio, alpha/gamma, reflects total agent deposition per infection and outbreak probability, where gamma is defined as the recovery rate. These insights provide theoretical contexts to examine the role of the environment in pathogen transmission and a framework to interpret environmental data to inform environmental interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Environment*
  • Environmental Medicine*
  • Epidemiologic Methods*
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Public Health*