Network frailty and the geometry of herd immunity

M. Ferrari, S. Bansal, L.A. Myers and O.N. Bjørnstad: Network frailty and the geometry of herd immunity

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B (2006) 273:2743-2748


The spread of infectious disease through communities depends fundamentally on the underlying patterns of contacts between individuals. Generally, the more contacts one individual has, the more vulnerable they are to infection during an epidemic. Thus, outbreaks disproportionately impact the most highly connected demographics. Epidemics can then lead, through immunization or removal of individuals, to sparser networks that are more resistant to future transmission of a given disease. Using several classes of contact networks -- Poisson, scale-free and small-world -- we characterize the structural evolution of a network due to an epidemic in terms of frailty (the degree to which highly connected individuals are more vulnerable to infection) and interference (the extent to which the epidemic cuts off connectivity among the susceptible population that remains following an epidemic). The evolution of the susceptible network over the course of an epidemic differs among the classes of networks; frailty, relative to interference, accounts for an increasing component of network evolution on networks with greater variance in contacts. The result is that immunization due to prior epidemics can provide greater community protection than random vaccination on networks with heterogeneous contact patterns, while the reverse is true for highly structured populations.

Keywords: epidemiology; frailty; herd immunity; social network; vaccination