Link removal for the control of stochastically evolving epidemics over networks: a comparison of approaches.


For many communicable diseases, knowledge of the underlying contact network through which the disease spreads is essential to determining appropriate control measures. When behavior change is the primary intervention for disease prevention, it is important to understand how to best modify network connectivity using the limited resources available to control disease spread. We describe and compare four algorithms for selecting a limited number of links to remove from a network: two "preventive" approaches (edge centrality, R0 minimization), where the decision of which links to remove is made prior to any disease outbreak and depends only on the network structure; and two "reactive" approaches (S-I edge centrality, optimal quarantining), where information about the initial disease states of the nodes is incorporated into the decision of which links to remove. We evaluate the performance of these algorithms in minimizing the total number of infections that occur over the course of an acute outbreak of disease. We consider different network structures, including both static and dynamic Erdös-Rényi random networks with varying levels of connectivity, a real-world network of residential hotels connected through injection drug use, and a network exhibiting community structure. We show that reactive approaches outperform preventive approaches in averting infections. Among reactive approaches, removing links in order of S-I edge centrality is favored when the link removal budget is small, while optimal quarantining performs best when the link removal budget is sufficiently large. The budget threshold above which optimal quarantining outperforms the S-I edge centrality algorithm is a function of both network structure (higher for unstructured Erdös-Rényi random networks compared to networks with community structure or the real-world network) and disease infectiousness (lower for highly infectious diseases). We conduct a value-of-information analysis of knowing which nodes are initially infected by comparing the performance improvement achieved by reactive over preventive strategies. We find that such information is most valuable for moderate budget levels, with increasing value as disease spread becomes more likely (due to either increased connectedness of the network or increased infectiousness of the disease).

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