Complexity of the Basic Reproduction Number (R 0)

Emerg Infect Dis. 2019 Jan;25(1):1-4. doi: 10.3201/eid2501.171901.

Abstract

The basic reproduction number (R0), also called the basic reproduction ratio or rate or the basic reproductive rate, is an epidemiologic metric used to describe the contagiousness or transmissibility of infectious agents. R0 is affected by numerous biological, sociobehavioral, and environmental factors that govern pathogen transmission and, therefore, is usually estimated with various types of complex mathematical models, which make R0 easily misrepresented, misinterpreted, and misapplied. R0 is not a biological constant for a pathogen, a rate over time, or a measure of disease severity, and R0 cannot be modified through vaccination campaigns. R0 is rarely measured directly, and modeled R0 values are dependent on model structures and assumptions. Some R0 values reported in the scientific literature are likely obsolete. R0 must be estimated, reported, and applied with great caution because this basic metric is far from simple.

Keywords: R0; basic reproduction number; basic reproduction rate; basic reproduction ratio; basic reproductive rate; disease outbreaks; infectious disease transmission; mathematical modeling; outbreaks; theoretical models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Basic Reproduction Number*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical