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Recent network evolution increases the potential for large epidemics in the British cattle population

By S.E Robinson, M.G Everett and R.M Christley


Following the foot and mouth disease epidemic in Great Britain (GB) in 2001, livestock movement bans were replaced with mandatory periods of standstill for livestock moving between premises. It was anticipated that these movement restrictions would limit each individual's contact networks, the extent of livestock movements and thus the spread of future disease outbreaks. However, the effect of behaviour changes on the global network in adapting to these restrictions is currently unknown. Here, we take a novel approach using GB cattle movement data to construct week-by-week contact networks between animal holdings (AH) to explore the evolution of the network since this policy was introduced, the first time network theory has been used for this purpose. We show that the number of AH moving cattle as part of the giant strong component (GSC), representing the region of maximal connectivity, has been increasing linearly over time. This is of epidemiological significance as the size of the GSC indicates the number of holdings potentially exposed to disease, thus giving a lower bound of maximum epidemic size. Therefore, despite restriction of cattle movements, emergent behaviour in this self-organizing system has potentially increased the size of infectious disease epidemics within the cattle industry

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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