Human mobility patterns predict divergent epidemic dynamics among cities

Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jul 17;280(1766):20130763. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0763. Print 2013 Sep 7.


The epidemic dynamics of infectious diseases vary among cities, but it is unclear how this is caused by patterns of infectious contact among individuals. Here, we ask whether systematic differences in human mobility patterns are sufficient to cause inter-city variation in epidemic dynamics for infectious diseases spread by casual contact between hosts. We analyse census data on the mobility patterns of every full-time worker in 48 Canadian cities, finding a power-law relationship between population size and the level of organization in mobility patterns, where in larger cities, a greater fraction of workers travel to work in a few focal locations. Similarly sized cities also vary in the level of organization in their mobility patterns, equivalent on average to the variation expected from a 2.64-fold change in population size. Systematic variation in mobility patterns is sufficient to cause significant differences among cities in infectious disease dynamics-even among cities of the same size-according to an individual-based model of airborne pathogen transmission parametrized with the mobility data. This suggests that differences among cities in host contact patterns are sufficient to drive differences in infectious disease dynamics and provides a framework for testing the effects of host mobility patterns in city-level disease data.

Keywords: commuting patterns; epidemic model; human mobility; infectious disease; power-law; transport model.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Censuses
  • Cities
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious
  • Epidemics*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Population Density
  • Transportation*