The duration of travel impacts the spatial dynamics of infectious diseases

John R. Giles, Elisabeth zu Erbach-Schoenberg, Andrew J. Tatem, Lauren Gardner, Ottar N. Bjørnstad, C. J.E. Metcalf, Amy Wesolowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Humans can impact the spatial transmission dynamics of infectious diseases by introducing pathogens into susceptible environments. The rate at which this occurs depends in part on human-mobility patterns. Increasingly, mobile-phone usage data are used to quantify human mobility and investigate the impact on disease dynamics. Although the number of trips between locations and the duration of those trips could both affect infectious-disease dynamics, there has been limited work to quantify and model the duration of travel in the context of disease transmission. Using mobility data inferred from mobile-phone calling records in Namibia, we calculated both the number of trips between districts and the duration of these trips from 2010 to 2014. We fit hierarchical Bayesian models to these data to describe both the mean trip number and duration. Results indicate that trip duration is positively related to trip distance, but negatively related to the destination population density. The highest volume of trips and shortest trip durations were among high-density districts, whereas trips among low-density districts had lower volume with longer duration. We also analyzed the impact of including trip duration in spatial-transmission models for a range of pathogens and introduction locations. We found that inclusion of trip duration generally delays the rate of introduction, regardless of pathogen, and that the variance and uncertainty around spatial spread increases proportionally with pathogen-generation time. These results enhance our understanding of disease-dispersal dynamics driven by human mobility, which has potential to elucidate optimal spatial and temporal scales for epidemic interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22572-22579
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 8 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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