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Nat Commun. 2015 Jan 16;6:6101. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7101.

Evolution and emergence of infectious diseases in theoretical and real-world networks.

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Institute for Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland.
Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Departments of Mathematics and Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


One of the most important advancements in theoretical epidemiology has been the development of methods that account for realistic host population structure. The central finding is that heterogeneity in contact networks, such as the presence of 'superspreaders', accelerates infectious disease spread in real epidemics. Disease control is also complicated by the continuous evolution of pathogens in response to changing environments and medical interventions. It remains unclear, however, how population structure influences these adaptive processes. Here we examine the evolution of infectious disease in empirical and theoretical networks. We show that the heterogeneity in contact structure, which facilitates the spread of a single disease, surprisingly renders a resident strain more resilient to invasion by new variants. Our results suggest that many host contact structures suppress invasion of new strains and may slow disease adaptation. These findings are important to the natural history of disease evolution and the spread of drug-resistant strains.

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