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Connectivity sustains disease transmission in environments with low potential for endemicity: modelling schistosomiasis with hydrologic and social connectivities

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Social interaction and physical interconnections between populations can influence the spread of parasites. The role that these pathways play in sustaining the transmission of parasitic diseases is unclear, although increasingly realistic metapopulation models are being used to study how diseases persist in connected environments. We use a mathematical model of schistosomiasis transmission for a distributed set of heterogeneous villages to show that the transport of parasites via social (host movement) and environmental (parasite larvae movement) pathways has consequences for parasite control, spread and persistence. We find that transmission can be sustained regionally throughout a group of connected villages even when individual village conditions appear not to support endemicity. Optimum transmission is determined by an interplay between different transport pathways, and not necessarily by those that are the most dispersive (e.g. disperse social contacts may not be optimal for transmission). We show that the traditional targeting of villages with high infection, without regard to village interconnections, may not lead to optimum control. These findings have major implications for effective disease control, which needs to go beyond considering local variations in disease intensity, to also consider the degree to which populations are interconnected.

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