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Discrete stochastic analogs of Erlang epidemic models


Erlang differential equation models of epidemic processes provide more realistic disease-class transition dynamics from susceptible (S) to exposed (E) to infectious (I) and removed (R) categories than the ubiquitous SEIR model. The latter is itself is at one end of the spectrum of Erlang SE[Formula: see text]I[Formula: see text]R models with [Formula: see text] concatenated E compartments and [Formula: see text] concatenated I compartments. Discrete-time models, however, are computationally much simpler to simulate and fit to epidemic outbreak data than continuous-time differential equations, and are also much more readily extended to include demographic and other types of stochasticity. Here we formulate discrete-time deterministic analogs of the Erlang models, and their stochastic extension, based on a time-to-go distributional principle. Depending on which distributions are used (e.g. discretized Erlang, Gamma, Beta, or Uniform distributions), we demonstrate that our formulation represents both a discretization of Erlang epidemic models and generalizations thereof. We consider the challenges of fitting SE[Formula: see text]I[Formula: see text]R models and our discrete-time analog to data (the recent outbreak of Ebola in Liberia). We demonstrate that the latter performs much better than the former; although confining fits to strict SEIR formulations reduces the numerical challenges, but sacrifices best-fit likelihood scores by at least 7%.

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