Different forms of superspreading lead to different outcomes: heterogeneity in infectiousness and contact behavior relevant for the case of SARS-CoV-2

E. J. Kuylen, A. Torneri, L. Willem, P. J. K. Libin, S. Abrams, P. Coletti, N. Franco, F. Verelst, P. Beutels, J. Liesenborgs, N. Hens

Research output: Working paperPreprint

Abstract

Superspreading events play an important role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and several other pathogens. Hence, while the basic reproduction number of the original Wuhan SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be about 3 for Belgium, there is substantial inter-individual variation in the number of secondary cases each infected individual causes. Multiple factors contribute to the occurrence of superspreading events: heterogeneity in infectiousness and susceptibility, variations in contact behavior, and the environment in which transmission takes place. While superspreading has been included in several infectious disease transmission models, our understanding of the effect that these different forms of superspreading have on the spread of pathogens and the effectiveness of control measures remains limited. To disentangle the effects of infectiousness-related heterogeneity on the one hand and contact-related heterogeneity on the other, we implemented both forms of superspreading in an individual-based model describing the transmission and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the Belgian population. We considered its impact on viral spread as well as on the effectiveness of social distancing. We found that the effects of superspreading driven by heterogeneity in infectiousness are very different from the effects of superspreading driven by heterogeneity in contact behavior. On the one hand, a higher level of infectiousness-related heterogeneity results in less outbreaks occurring following the introduction of one infected individual. Outbreaks were also slower, with a lower peak which occurred at a later point in time, and a lower herd immunity threshold. Finally, the risk of resurgence of an outbreak following a period of lockdown decreased. On the other hand, when contact-related heterogeneity was high, this also led to smaller final sizes, but caused outbreaks to be more explosive in regard to other aspects (such as higher peaks which occurred earlier, and a higher herd immunity threshold). Finally, the risk of resurgence of an outbreak following a period of lockdown increased. Determining the contribution of both source of heterogeneity is therefore important but left to be explored further. Author summaryTo investigate the effect of different sources of superspreading on disease dynamics, we implemented superspreading driven by heterogeneity in infectiousness and heterogeneity in contact behavior into an individual-based model for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the Belgian population. We compared the impact of both forms of superspreading in a scenario without interventions as well as in a scenario in which a period of strict social distancing (i.e. a lockdown) is followed by a period of partial release. We found that both forms of superspreading have very different effects. On the one hand, increasing the level of infectiousness-related heterogeneity led to less outbreaks being observed following the introduction of one infected individual in the population. Furthermore, final outbreak sizes decreased, and outbreaks became slower, with lower and later peaks, and a lower herd immunity threshold. Finally, the risk for resurgence of an outbreak following a period of lockdown also decreased. On the other hand, when contact-related heterogeneity was high, this also led to smaller final sizes, but caused outbreaks to be more explosive regarding other aspects (such as higher peaks that occurred earlier). The herd immunity threshold also increased, as did the risk of resurgence of outbreaks.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
DOIs
Publication statusSubmitted - 6 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • infectious diseases

Cite this