Time-optimal control strategies in SIR epidemic models

Math Biosci. 2017 Oct:292:86-96. doi: 10.1016/j.mbs.2017.07.011. Epub 2017 Aug 8.


We investigate the time-optimal control problem in SIR (Susceptible-Infected-Recovered) epidemic models, focusing on different control policies: vaccination, isolation, culling, and reduction of transmission. Applying the Pontryagin's Minimum Principle (PMP) to the unconstrained control problems (i.e. without costs of control or resource limitations), we prove that, for all the policies investigated, only bang-bang controls with at most one switch are admitted. When a switch occurs, the optimal strategy is to delay the control action some amount of time and then apply the control at the maximum rate for the remainder of the outbreak. This result is in contrast with previous findings on the unconstrained problems of minimizing the total infectious burden over an outbreak, where the optimal strategy is to use the maximal control for the entire epidemic. Then, the critical consequence of our results is that, in a wide range of epidemiological circumstances, it may be impossible to minimize the total infectious burden while minimizing the epidemic duration, and vice versa. Moreover, numerical simulations highlighted additional unexpected results, showing that the optimal control can be delayed also when the control reproduction number is lower than one and that the switching time from no control to maximum control can even occur after the peak of infection has been reached. Our results are especially important for livestock diseases where the minimization of outbreaks duration is a priority due to sanitary restrictions imposed to farms during ongoing epidemics, such as animal movements and export bans.

Keywords: Bang–bang control; Delayed intervention; Deterministic epidemic; Infectious disease outbreak; Minimum time; SIR model.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Culling
  • Animal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Animal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Animal Diseases / transmission
  • Animals
  • Epidemics / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Livestock
  • Time Factors
  • Vaccination / veterinary