Timely identification of optimal control strategies for emerging infectious diseases

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Background: Health authorities must rely on quarantine, isolation, and other non-pharmaceutical interventions to contain outbreaks of newly emerging human diseases. Methods: We modeled a generic disease caused by a pathogen apparently transmitted by close interpersonal contact, but about which little else is known. In our model, people may be infectious while incubating or during their prodrome or acute illness. We derived an expression for ℜ, the reproduction number, took its partial derivatives with respect to control parameters, and encoded these analytical results in a user-friendly Mathematica™ notebook. With biological parameters for SARS estimated from the initial case series in Hong Kong and infection rates from hospitalizations in Singapore, we determined ℜ's sensitivity to control parameters. Results: Stage-specific infection rate estimates from cases hospitalized before quarantine began exceed those from the entire outbreak, but are qualitatively similar: infectiousness was negligible until symptom onset, and increased 10-fold from prodrome to acute illness. Given such information, authorities might instead have emphasized a strategy whose efficiency more than compensates for any possible reduction in efficacy. Conclusions: In future outbreaks of new human diseases transmitted via close interpersonal contact, it should be possible to identify the optimal intervention early enough to facilitate effective decision-making.




Feng, Z., Yang, Y., Xu, D., Zhang, P., McCauley, M. M., & Glasser, J. W. (2009). Timely identification of optimal control strategies for emerging infectious diseases. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 259(1), 165–171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2009.03.006

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