Using heterogeneity in the population structure of U.S. swine farms to compare transmission models for porcine epidemic diarrhoea


In 2013, U.S. swine producers were confronted with the disruptive emergence of porcine epidemic diarrhoea (PED). Movement of animals among farms is hypothesised to have played a role in the spread of PED among farms. Via this or other mechanisms, the rate of spread may also depend on the geographic density of farms and climate. To evaluate such effects on a large scale, we analyse state-level counts of outbreaks with variables describing the distribution of farm sizes and types, aggregate flows of animals among farms, and an index of climate. Our first main finding is that it is possible for a correlation analysis to be sensitive to transmission model parameters. This finding is based on a global sensitivity analysis of correlations on simulated data that included a biased and noisy observation model based on the available PED data. Our second main finding is that flows are significantly associated with the reports of PED outbreaks. This finding is based on correlations of pairwise relationships and regression modeling of total and weekly outbreak counts. These findings illustrate how variation in population structure may be employed along with observational data to improve understanding of disease spread.

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