Quantifying Transmission

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Transmissibility is the defining characteristic of infectious diseases. Quantifying transmission matters for understanding infectious disease epidemiology and designing evidence-based disease control programs. Tracing individual transmission events can be achieved by epidemiological investigation coupled with pathogen typing or genome sequencing. Individual infectiousness can be estimated by measuring pathogen loads, but few studies have directly estimated the ability of infected hosts to transmit to uninfected hosts. Individuals' opportunities to transmit infection are dependent on behavioral and other risk factors relevant given the transmission route of the pathogen concerned. Transmission at the population level can be quantified through knowledge of risk factors in the population or phylogeographic analysis of pathogen sequence data. Mathematical model-based approaches require estimation of the per capita transmission rate and basic reproduction number, obtained by fitting models to case data and/or analysis of pathogen sequence data. Heterogeneities in infectiousness, contact behavior, and susceptibility can have substantial effects on the epidemiology of an infectious disease, so estimates of only mean values may be insufficient. For some pathogens, super-shedders (infected individuals who are highly infectious) and super-spreaders (individuals with more opportunities to transmit infection) may be important. Future work on quantifying transmission should involve integrated analyses of multiple data sources.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMicrobiology Spectrum
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2017


  • Journal Article


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