Searching for the most cost-effective strategy for controlling epidemics spreading on regular and small-world networks

J R Soc Interface. 2012 Jan 7;9(66):158-69. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2011.0216. Epub 2011 Jun 8.


We present a combined epidemiological and economic model for control of diseases spreading on local and small-world networks. The disease is characterized by a pre-symptomatic infectious stage that makes detection and control of cases more difficult. The effectiveness of local (ring-vaccination or culling) and global control strategies is analysed by comparing the net present values of the combined cost of preventive treatment and illness. The optimal strategy is then selected by minimizing the total cost of the epidemic. We show that three main strategies emerge, with treating a large number of individuals (global strategy, GS), treating a small number of individuals in a well-defined neighbourhood of a detected case (local strategy) and allowing the disease to spread unchecked (null strategy, NS). The choice of the optimal strategy is governed mainly by a relative cost of palliative and preventive treatments. If the disease spreads within the well-defined neighbourhood, the local strategy is optimal unless the cost of a single vaccine is much higher than the cost associated with hospitalization. In the latter case, it is most cost-effective to refrain from prevention. Destruction of local correlations, either by long-range (small-world) links or by inclusion of many initial foci, expands the range of costs for which the NS is most cost-effective. The GS emerges for the case when the cost of prevention is much lower than the cost of treatment and there is a substantial non-local component in the disease spread. We also show that local treatment is only desirable if the disease spreads on a small-world network with sufficiently few long-range links; otherwise it is optimal to treat globally. In the mean-field case, there are only two optimal solutions, to treat all if the cost of the vaccine is low and to treat nobody if it is high. The basic reproduction ratio, R(0), does not depend on the rate of responsive treatment in this case and the disease always invades (but might be stopped afterwards). The details of the local control strategy, and in particular the optimal size of the control neighbourhood, are determined by the epidemiology of the disease. The properties of the pathogen might not be known in advance for emerging diseases, but the broad choice of the strategy can be made based on economic analysis only.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Disease Control / economics*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Epidemics / economics
  • Epidemics / prevention & control*
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic
  • Stochastic Processes