Pandemic-associated mobility restrictions could cause increases in dengue virus transmission.


We used an agent-based model with a realistic treatment of human mobility and vector control. We found that a lockdown in which 70% of the population sheltered at home and which occurred in a season when a new serotype invaded could lead to a small average increase in cumulative DENV infections of up to 10%, depending on the time of year lockdown occurred. Lockdown had a more pronounced effect on the spatial distribution of DENV infections, with higher incidence under lockdown in regions with higher mosquito abundance. Transmission was also more focused in homes following lockdown. The proportion of people infected in their own home rose from 54% under normal conditions to 66% under lockdown, and the household secondary attack rate rose from 0.109 to 0.128, a 17% increase. When we considered that lockdown measures could disrupt regular, city-wide vector control campaigns, the increase in incidence was more pronounced than with lockdown alone, especially if lockdown occurred at the optimal time for vector control.

The COVID-19 pandemic has induced unprecedented reductions in human mobility and social contacts throughout the world. Because dengue virus (DENV) transmission is strongly driven by human mobility, behavioral changes associated with the pandemic have been hypothesized to impact dengue incidence. By discouraging human contact, COVID-19 control measures have also disrupted dengue vector control interventions, the most effective of which require entry into homes. We sought to investigate how and why dengue incidence could differ under a lockdown scenario with a proportion of the population sheltered at home.

Our results indicate that an unintended outcome of lockdown measures may be to adversely alter the epidemiology of dengue. This observation has important implications for an improved understanding of dengue epidemiology and effective application of dengue vector control. When coordinating public health responses during a syndemic, it is important to monitor multiple infections and understand that an intervention against one disease may exacerbate another.

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Guido España

Research Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
University of Notre Dame