Simple model captures almost 100 years of measles dynamics in London

September 12, 2019

A simple epidemiological model accurately captures long-term measles transmission dynamics in London, including major perturbations triggered by historical events. Alexander Becker of Princeton University in New Jersey, U.S., and colleagues present these findings in PLOS Computational Biology.

Previous studies have extensively explored how disease outbreaks are affected by variations in demography, such as birth rate, and variations in person-to-person contact, such those arising from school calendars. However, key historical events, such as the 1918 influenza pandemic in London and the World War II evacuation of about 1 million children from London to the countryside, have not been studied in the context of long-term trajectories of disease transmission.

For the new study, Becker and colleagues aimed to mathematically disentangle the disease transmission effects of regular demographic changes, such as variable birth rate, from larger shifts caused by historical events. They took advantage of recent advancements in statistical algorithms to mathematically analyze weekly measles incidence and mortality data reported in London from 1897 to 1991.

The researchers found that a simple mathematical model successfully captured measles transmission dynamics throughout the study period, including the effects of major perturbations caused by historical events. "The most exciting aspect of this research is showing that the London system is able to remain mathematically stable--that is, essentially, well-predicted--in spite of multiple huge perturbations such as the 1918 pandemic and the wartime evacuation," Becker says.

The findings underscore that the long-term dynamics of epidemiological systems can follow simple rules, despite major perturbations. The results could have practical implications for understanding long-term disease dynamics in other contexts, such as the resurgence of measles seen in recent years. They could also help inform understanding of other ecological dynamics, such as predator-prey interactions.
Peer-reviewed; Simulation/modeling; N/A

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Citation: Becker AD, Wesolowski A, Bjørnstad ON, Grenfell BT (2019) Long-term dynamics of measles in London: Titrating the impact of wars, the 1918 pandemic, and vaccination. PLoS Comput Biol 15(9): e1007305.

Funding: A.D.B. was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University. A.W. was supported by a career award at the Scientific Interface from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the National Institutes of Health Director's New Innovator Award (DP2LM013102). O.N.B. was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation. B.T.G. was supported by the Research and Policy for Infectious Disease Dynamics program of the Science and Technology Directorate, Department of Homeland Security, the Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


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Simple model captures almost 100 years of measles dynamics in London
A simple epidemiological model accurately captures long-term measles transmission dynamics in London, including major perturbations triggered by historical events.

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