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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Dec 22;273(1605):3075-83.

How do pathogen evolution and host heterogeneity interact in disease emergence?

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Department of Biology, Emory University, 1510 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


Heterogeneity in the parameters governing the spread of infectious diseases is a common feature of real-world epidemics. It has been suggested that for pathogens with basic reproductive number R(0)>1, increasing heterogeneity makes extinction of disease more likely during the early rounds of transmission. The basic reproductive number R(0) of the introduced pathogen may, however, be less than 1 after the introduction, and evolutionary changes are then required for R(0) to increase to above 1 and the pathogen to emerge. In this paper, we consider how host heterogeneity influences the emergence of both non-evolving pathogens and those that must undergo adaptive changes to spread in the host population. In contrast to previous results, we find that heterogeneity does not always make extinction more likely and that if adaptation is required for emergence, the effect of host heterogeneity is relatively small. We discuss the application of these ideas to vaccination strategies.

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