A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will help answer a fundamental disease ecology question about the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola and rabies through communities in human and animal populations.
The study, led by Georgetown University Assistant Professor of Biology Shweta Bansal, Georgetown Ph.D. candidate Pratha Sah, a Georgetown postdoctoral fellow and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Pennsylvania State University tested the hypothesis that community formation creates boundaries that reduce the likelihood that disease can spread further.
"Our findings, through mathematical models of social interactions and disease spread, found that infection spread is largely unaffected by the presence of communities," Bansal said. Dr. Bansal continued that the findings "show that effective disease management must look to control infection 'spillovers' when populations are less subdivided. In contrast, if a population is already highly subdivided, disease management should focus on limiting local disease transmission in each community."
The findings may be relatable to human outbreaks of infectious disease. "Our study suggests that if there is an outbreak on a college campus, for example, control should focus on residence halls where the infection was first reported," she says, "but in the surrounding town, control should focus on restricting travel from neighborhoods where the infection has been reported."
Social networks of over 40 different animal species, including insects, birds, fishes, reptiles and mammals, were tested in the study. The study findings can help assist in formulating strategic actions to contain the spread of future disease outbreaks, solely based on the knowledge of how these social interactions are organized in a population.
Article: Unraveling the disease consequences and mechanisms of modular structure in animal social networks, Shweta Bansal et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online 3 April 2017.