Impact of degree truncation on the spread of a contagious process on networks

Netw Sci (Camb Univ Press). 2018 Mar;6(1):34-53. doi: 10.1017/nws.2017.30. Epub 2017 Oct 30.


Understanding how person-to-person contagious processes spread through a population requires accurate information on connections between population members. However, such connectivity data, when collected via interview, is often incomplete due to partial recall, respondent fatigue or study design, e.g., fixed choice designs (FCD) truncate out-degree by limiting the number of contacts each respondent can report. Past research has shown how FCD truncation affects network properties, but its implications for predicted speed and size of spreading processes remain largely unexplored. To study the impact of degree truncation on predictions of spreading process outcomes, we generated collections of synthetic networks containing specific properties (degree distribution, degree-assortativity, clustering), and also used empirical social network data from 75 villages in Karnataka, India. We simulated FCD using various truncation thresholds and ran a susceptible-infectious-recovered (SIR) process on each network. We found that spreading processes propagated on truncated networks resulted in slower and smaller epidemics, with a sudden decrease in prediction accuracy at a level of truncation that varied by network type. Our results have implications beyond FCD to truncation due to any limited sampling from a larger network. We conclude that knowledge of network structure is important for understanding the accuracy of predictions of process spread on degree truncated networks.

Keywords: Contact networks; Epidemics; Fixed choice design; Network epidemiology; Social networks; Spreading processes; Truncation; Validity.