Estimating age-mixing patterns relevant for the transmission of airborne infections

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Introduction: Age-mixing patterns can have substantial effects on infectious disease dynamics and intervention effects. Data on close contacts (people spoken to and/or touched) are often used to estimate age-mixing. These are not the only relevant contacts for airborne infections such as tuberculosis, where transmission can occur between anybody ‘sharing air’ indoors. Directly collecting data on age-mixing patterns between casual contacts (shared indoor space, but not ‘close’) is difficult however. We demonstrate a method for indirectly estimating age-mixing patterns between casual indoor contacts from social contact data. Methods: We estimated age-mixing patterns between close, casual, and all contacts using data from a social contact survey in South Africa. The age distribution of casual contacts in different types of location was estimated from the reported time spent in the location type by respondents in each age group. Results: Patterns of age-mixing calculated from contact numbers were similar between close and all contacts, however patterns of age-mixing calculated from contact time were more age-assortative in all contacts than in close contacts. There was also more variation by age group in total numbers of casual and all contacts, than in total numbers of close contacts. Estimates were robust to sensitivity analyses. Conclusions: Patterns of age-mixing can be estimated for all contacts using data that can be easily collected as part of social contact surveys or time-use surveys, and may differ from patterns between close contacts.




McCreesh, N., Morrow, C., Middelkoop, K., Wood, R., & White, R. G. (2019). Estimating age-mixing patterns relevant for the transmission of airborne infections. Epidemics, 28.

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