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Exogenous re-infection and the dynamics of tuberculosis epidemics: local effects in a network model of transmission.

Abstract

Infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis leads to tuberculosis (TB) disease by one of the three possible routes: primary progression after a recent infection; re-activation of a latent infection; or exogenous re-infection of a previously infected individual. Recent studies show that optimal TB control strategies may vary depending on the predominant route to disease in a specific population. It is therefore important for public health policy makers to understand the relative frequency of each type of TB within specific epidemiological scenarios. Although molecular epidemiologic tools have been used to estimate the relative contribution of recent transmission and re-activation to the burden of TB disease, it is not possible to use these techniques to distinguish between primary disease and re-infection on a population level. Current estimates of the contribution of re-infection therefore rely on mathematical models which identify the parameters most consistent with epidemiological data; these studies find that exogenous re-infection is important only when TB incidence is high. A basic assumption of these models is that people in a population are all equally likely to come into contact with an infectious case. However, theoretical studies demonstrate that the social and spatial structure can strongly influence the dynamics of infectious disease transmission. Here, we use a network model of TB transmission to evaluate the impact of non-homogeneous mixing on the relative contribution of re-infection over realistic epidemic trajectories. In contrast to the findings of previous models, our results suggest that re-infection may be important in communities where the average disease incidence is moderate or low as the force of infection can be unevenly distributed in the population. These results have important implications for the development of TB control strategies.

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