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  1. Chowell, Gerardo (Ed.)

    To support decision-making and policy for managing epidemics of emerging pathogens, we present a model for inference and scenario analysis of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the USA. The stochastic SEIR-type model includes compartments for latent, asymptomatic, detected and undetected symptomatic individuals, and hospitalized cases, and features realistic interval distributions for presymptomatic and symptomatic periods, time varying rates of case detection, diagnosis, and mortality. The model accounts for the effects on transmission of human mobility using anonymized mobility data collected from cellular devices, and of difficult to quantify environmental and behavioral factors using a latent process. The baseline transmission rate is the product of a human mobility metric obtained from data and this fitted latent process. We fit the model to incident case and death reports for each state in the USA and Washington D.C., using likelihood Maximization by Iterated particle Filtering (MIF). Observations (daily case and death reports) are modeled as arising from a negative binomial reporting process. We estimate time-varying transmission rate, parameters of a sigmoidal time-varying fraction of hospitalized cases that result in death, extra-demographic process noise, two dispersion parameters of the observation process, and the initial sizes of the latent, asymptomatic, and symptomatic classes. In a retrospective analysis covering March–December 2020, we show how mobility and transmission strength became decoupled across two distinct phases of the pandemic. The decoupling demonstrates the need for flexible, semi-parametric approaches for modeling infectious disease dynamics in real-time.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 8, 2024
  2. Riley, Steven (Ed.)
    Historically, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases have caused large, deadly, and expensive multinational outbreaks. Often outbreak investigations aim to identify who infected whom by reconstructing the outbreak transmission tree, which visualizes transmission between individuals as a network with nodes representing individuals and branches representing transmission from person to person. We compiled a database, called OutbreakTrees, of 382 published, standardized transmission trees consisting of 16 directly transmitted diseases ranging in size from 2 to 286 cases. For each tree and disease, we calculated several key statistics, such as tree size, average number of secondary infections, the dispersion parameter, and the proportion of cases considered superspreaders, and examined how these statistics varied over the course of each outbreak and under different assumptions about the completeness of outbreak investigations. We demonstrated the potential utility of the database through 2 short analyses addressing questions about superspreader epidemiology for a variety of diseases, including Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). First, we found that our transmission trees were consistent with theory predicting that intermediate dispersion parameters give rise to the highest proportion of cases causing superspreading events. Additionally, we investigated patterns in how superspreaders are infected. Across trees with more than 1 superspreader, we found preliminary support for the theory that superspreaders generate other superspreaders. In sum, our findings put the role of superspreading in COVID-19 transmission in perspective with that of other diseases and suggest an approach to further research regarding the generation of superspreaders. These data have been made openly available to encourage reuse and further scientific inquiry. 
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  3. Short-term forecasts of the dynamics of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the period up to its decline following mass vaccination was a task that received much attention but proved difficult to do with high accuracy. However, the availability of standardized forecasts and versioned datasets from this period allows for continued work in this area. Here, we introduce the Gaussian infection state space with time dependence (GISST) forecasting model. We evaluate its performance in one to four weeks ahead forecasts of COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths in the state of California made with official reports of COVID-19, Google’s mobility reports and vaccination data available each week. Evaluation of these forecasts with a weighted interval score shows them to consistently outperform a naive baseline forecast and often score closer to or better than a high-performing ensemble forecaster. The GISST model also provides parameter estimates for a compartmental model of COVID-19 dynamics, includes a regression submodel for the transmission rate and allows for parameters to vary over time according to a random walk. GISST provides a novel, balanced combination of computational efficiency, model interpretability and applicability to large multivariate datasets that may prove useful in improving the accuracy of infectious disease forecasts. 
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  4. Early warning indicators based on critical slowing down have been suggested as a model-independent and low-cost tool to anticipate the (re)emergence of infectious diseases. We studied whether such indicators could reliably have anticipated the second COVID-19 wave in European countries. Contrary to theoretical predictions, we found that characteristic early warning indicators generally decreased rather than increased prior to the second wave. A model explains this unexpected finding as a result of transient dynamics and the multiple timescales of relaxation during a non-stationary epidemic. Particularly, if an epidemic that seems initially contained after a first wave does not fully settle to its new quasi-equilibrium prior to changing circumstances or conditions that force a second wave, then indicators will show a decreasing rather than an increasing trend as a result of the persistent transient trajectory of the first wave. Our simulations show that this lack of timescale separation was to be expected during the second European epidemic wave of COVID-19. Overall, our results emphasize that the theory of critical slowing down applies only when the external forcing of the system across a critical point is slow relative to the internal system dynamics. 
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  5. Deforestation alters wildlife communities and modifies human–wildlife interactions, often increasing zoonotic spillover potential. When deforested land reverts to forest, species composition differences between primary and regenerating (secondary) forest could alter spillover risk trajectory. We develop a mathematical model of land-use change, where habitats differ in their relative spillover risk, to understand how land reversion influences spillover risk. We apply this framework to scenarios where spillover risk is higher in deforested land than mature forest, reflecting higher relative abundance of highly competent species and/or increased human–wildlife encounters, and where regenerating forest has either very low or high spillover risk. We find the forest regeneration rate, the spillover risk of regenerating forest relative to deforested land, and how rapidly regenerating forest regains attributes of mature forest determine landscape-level spillover risk. When regenerating forest has a much lower spillover risk than deforested land, reversion lowers cumulative spillover risk, but instaneous spillover risk peaks earlier. However, when spillover risk is high in regenerating and cleared habitats, landscape-level spillover risk remains high, especially when cleared land is rapidly abandoned then slowly regenerates to mature forest. These results suggest that proactive wildlife management and awareness of human exposure risk in regenerating forests could be important tools for spillover mitigation. 
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  6. Helminths are parasites that cause disease at considerable cost to public health and present a risk for emergence as novel human infections. Although recent research has elucidated characteristics conferring a propensity to emergence in other parasite groups (e.g. viruses), the understanding of factors associated with zoonotic potential in helminths remains poor. We applied an investigator-directed learning algorithm to a global dataset of mammal helminth traits to identify factors contributing to spillover of helminths from wild animal hosts into humans. We characterized parasite traits that distinguish between zoonotic and non-zoonotic species with 91% accuracy. Results suggest that helminth traits relating to transmission (e.g. definitive and intermediate hosts) and geography (e.g. distribution) are more important to discriminating zoonotic from non-zoonotic species than morphological or epidemiological traits. Whether or not a helminth causes infection in companion animals (cats and dogs) is the most important predictor of propensity to cause human infection. Finally, we identified helminth species with high modelled propensity to cause zoonosis (over 70%) that have not previously been considered to be of risk. This work highlights the importance of prioritizing studies on the transmission of helminths that infect pets and points to the risks incurred by close associations with these animals. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Infectious disease macroecology: parasite diversity and dynamics across the globe’. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
    Species displaying temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) are especially vulnerable to the effects of a rapidly changing global climate due to their profound sensitivity to thermal cues during development. Predicting the consequences of climate change for these species, including skewed offspring sex ratios, depends on understanding how climatic factors interface with features of maternal nesting behaviour to shape the developmental environment. Here, we measure thermal profiles in 86 nests at two geographically distinct sites in the northern and southern regions of the American alligator's ( Alligator mississippiensis ) geographical range, and examine the influence of both climatic factors and maternally driven nest characteristics on nest temperature variation. Changes in daily maximum air temperatures drive annual trends in nest temperatures, while variation in individual nest temperatures is also related to local habitat factors and microclimate characteristics. Without any compensatory nesting behaviours, nest temperatures are projected to increase by 1.6–3.7°C by the year 2100, and these changes are predicted to have dramatic consequences for offspring sex ratios. Exact sex ratio outcomes vary widely depending on site and emission scenario as a function of the unique temperature-by-sex reaction norm exhibited by all crocodilians. By revealing the ecological drivers of nest temperature variation in the American alligator, this study provides important insights into the potential consequences of climate change for crocodilian species, many of which are already threatened by extinction. 
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