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30/05/2023 - Age: 1 year
By: Martin Weigel

Contacting epidemics

Contact patterns crucially shape epidemic spread

In a recent paper in New. J. Phys. in collaboration with researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and University of Bayreuth we report on the effect of human contact behavior with its temporal and spatial structure on the speed and robustness of epidemic spreading processes.

The ongoing pandemic has reinvigorated a widespread interest in epidemiological modeling of contagious diseases. In addition to simple compartmental models, research has mainly focused on disease progression on spatial networks. Surprisingly, temporal aspects have received much less attention. As a result, it remains an open question how the interplay between individual contact patterns and disease progression contributes to epidemic spread. By combining an analysis of real-world contact data from the Copenhagen Networks Study with a novel approach to extract disease-spread statistics from contact data, we set out to address this question. 
We identify striking temporal contact patterns that crucially affect the spreading of contagious diseases but are currently neglected in standard epidemiological models. Most importantly, we reveal a resonance between contact patterns and disease progression, identifying the latent period (i.e. the time between infection and onset of virus shedding) as a crucial parameter in determining the epidemic spread: When the latent period leads to an alignment of the infectious period with times of enhanced social contacts, infectious encounters are significantly increased. In this way, our work reveals the subtle interplay of contact behavior and disease progression, it highlights the necessity to include these aspects into epidemiological models, and it opens pathways to designing non-pharmaceutical interventions based on altered contact behavior to contain epidemic spread.