A model of population dynamics with complex household structure and mobility: implications for transmission and control of communicable diseases

Households are known to be high-risk locations for the transmission of communicable diseases. Numerous modelling studies have demonstrated the important role of households in sustaining both communicable diseases outbreaks and endemic transmission, and as the focus for control efforts. However, these studies typically assume that households are associated with a single dwelling and have static membership. This assumption does not appropriately reflect households in some populations, such as those in remote Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, which can be distributed across more than one physical dwelling, leading to the occupancy of individual dwellings changing rapidly over time. In this study, we developed an individual-based model of an infectious disease outbreak in communities with demographic and household structure reflective of a remote Australian Aboriginal community. We used the model to compare the dynamics of unmitigated outbreaks, and outbreaks constrained by a household-focused prophylaxis intervention, in communities exhibiting fluid vs. stable dwelling occupancy. We found that fluid dwelling occupancy can lead to larger and faster outbreaks in modelled scenarios, and may interfere with the effectiveness of household-focused interventions. Our findings suggest that while short-term restrictions on movement between dwellings may be beneficial during outbreaks, in the longer-term, strategies focused on reducing household crowding may be a more effective way to reduce the risk of severe outbreaks occurring in populations with fluid dwelling occupancy.

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