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Title: Modeling the Effects of Resource-Driven Immune Defense on Parasite Transmission in Heterogeneous Host Populations

Individuals experience heterogeneous environmental conditions that can affect within-host processes such as immune defense against parasite infection. Variation among individuals in parasite shedding can cause some hosts to contribute disproportionately to population-level transmission, but we currently lack mechanistic theory that predicts when environmental conditions can result in large disease outbreaks through the formation of immunocompromised superspreading individuals. Here, I present a within-host model of a microparasite’s interaction with the immune system that links an individual host’s resource intake to its infectious period. For environmental scenarios driving population-level heterogeneity in resource intake (resource scarcity and resource subsidy relative to baseline availability), I generate a distribution of infectious periods and simulate epidemics on these heterogeneous populations. I find that resource scarcity can result in large epidemics through creation of superspreading individuals, while resource subsidies can reduce or prevent transmission of parasites close to their invasion threshold by homogenizing resource allocation to immune defense. Importantly, failure to account for heterogeneity in competence can result in under-prediction of outbreak size, especially when parasites are close to their invasion threshold. More generally, this framework suggests that differences in conditions experienced by individual hosts can lead to superspreading via differences in resource allocation to immune more » defense alone, even in the absence of other heterogeneites such as host contacts.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Integrative and Comparative Biology
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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