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PLoS Negl Trop Dis. Nov 2012; 6(11): e1901.
Published online Nov 8, 2012. doi:  10.1371/journal.pntd.0001901
PMCID: PMC3493445

Urban Cholera Transmission Hotspots and Their Implications for Reactive Vaccination: Evidence from Bissau City, Guinea Bissau

Joseph M. Vinetz, Editor

Abstract

Background

Use of cholera vaccines in response to epidemics (reactive vaccination) may provide an effective supplement to traditional control measures. In Haiti, reactive vaccination was considered but, until recently, rejected in part due to limited global supply of vaccine. Using Bissau City, Guinea-Bissau as a case study, we explore neighborhood-level transmission dynamics to understand if, with limited vaccine and likely delays, reactive vaccination can significantly change the course of a cholera epidemic.

Methods and Findings

We fit a spatially explicit meta-population model of cholera transmission within Bissau City to data from 7,551 suspected cholera cases from a 2008 epidemic. We estimated the effect reactive vaccination campaigns would have had on the epidemic under different levels of vaccine coverage and campaign start dates. We compared highly focused and diffuse strategies for distributing vaccine throughout the city. We found wide variation in the efficiency of cholera transmission both within and between areas of the city. “Hotspots”, where transmission was most efficient, appear to drive the epidemic. In particular one area, Bandim, was a necessary driver of the 2008 epidemic in Bissau City. If vaccine supply were limited but could have been distributed within the first 80 days of the epidemic, targeting vaccination at Bandim would have averted the most cases both within this area and throughout the city. Regardless of the distribution strategy used, timely distribution of vaccine in response to an ongoing cholera epidemic can prevent cases and save lives.

Conclusions

Reactive vaccination can be a useful tool for controlling cholera epidemics, especially in urban areas like Bissau City. Particular neighborhoods may be responsible for driving a city's cholera epidemic; timely and targeted reactive vaccination at such neighborhoods may be the most effective way to prevent cholera cases both within that neighborhood and throughout the city.

Author Summary

Cholera remains a major public health threat, causing 3–5 million cases and 100,000–120,000 deaths each year. In 2010, data on vaccine performance and the changing epidemiology of cholera prompted the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group to recommend that reactive vaccination be considered in specific areas. We built a spatially explicit stochastic model of cholera transmission and fit it to data from a 2008 epidemic in Bissau City, Guinea Bissau. Using this model we examined the potential effectiveness of reactive vaccination for controlling cholera transmission in Bissau City, comparing strategies for distributing limited vaccine. In simulations, early targeting of a single transmission “hotspot”, Bandim, was the most effective strategy, and led to the greatest reduction in cases both within Bandim and in areas where no vaccine was distributed. This finding has implications for cholera control in urban settings in general: public health officials will often know which areas of a city were hotspots of cholera transmission in the past or where conditions promote efficient transmission. When there is limited vaccine, our work suggests that targeting reactive vaccination at these areas will lead to the greatest reduction in cases both in these areas and elsewhere in the city.


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