09:47am Tuesday 24 October 2017

Can you predict how a disease will spread in a population?

By using novel complexity sciences tools the study, published in Physical Review Letters, outlines a predictive model of a spatial epidemic spread in a population of territorial animals.

By quantifying the instances of transmission events, the research team, Dr Luca Giuggioli, Senior Lecturer in Complexity Sciences in the Department of Engineering Mathematics and the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, and Dr David Sanders and Master’s student, Sebastian Pérez-Becker, from UNAM, Mexico, have determined the propagation speed of a pathogen based on the knowledge of the demography of a species, the way animals wander and the degree of contagiousness of the disease.

As a large percentage of new and remerging human infectious diseases are of animal origin, models that track how pathogens hop from one animal host to another will help develop more effective control measures that are capable of identifying specific individuals or class of individuals rather than ineffective and costly widespread culling procedures of an entire population.

Dr Luca Giuggioli said: “The research findings have the potential to be applicable to various populations of territorial animals worldwide including in the UK bovine Tb in badgers, which has enormous economic implications for the cattle industry.”

Bovine tuberculosis (Tb) in badgers, which affects cattle, the farming industry and has become a political issue, is an example of how the model could be used.  Badgers are territorial animals and do transmit the infection by passing the bacterial pathogen to individuals in neighbouring territories, which is what the researchers have quantified in their model.

The research was funded by a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico.

Paper: Encounter times in overlapping domains: application to epidemic spread in a population of territorial animals, Luca Giuggioli, Sebastian Pérez-Becker and David P. Sanders, Physical Review Letters, published 30 January 2013.


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About the EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

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