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Epidemics don’t necessarily decline because everyone has been infected, but also end because there aren’t enough infected people left to sustain transmission

Epidemics don’t necessarily decline because everyone has been infected, but also end because there aren’t enough infected people left to sustain transmission Epidemics don’t necessarily decline because everyone has been infected, but also end because there aren’t enough infected people left to sustain transmission
Source: Charis Tsevis via Behance
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From influenza to plague, the number of cases in a real epidemic often rises exponentially at first. After a while, the disease reaches a peak level, and then the number of new cases starts to decrease. When McKendrick and Kermack began their research (1927, in a paper titled ‘A Contribution to the Mathematical Theory of Epidemics), people generally gave two possible reasons for the decline. Either the epidemic faded away because the infection had become less potent over time, or because there were no susceptible people left – everyone had been infected and either died or become immune.

In their model, McKendrick and Kermack assumed that the pathogen stayed the same throughout the epidemic; the infection did not weaken over time. And yet the model still produced an eventual decline in cases. When the pair compared the model to the 1905 outbreak of plague in Bombay, the predicted number of cases matched the real disease level.

So was the decrease in infection caused by a lack of susceptible people? Apparently not: in the model, there were always some susceptible individuals remaining at the end of the outbreak. McKendrick and Kermack had demonstrated that epidemics don’t necessarily decline because everyone has been infected. They can also end because there aren’t enough infected people left to sustain transmission. Once enough people are immune, infected individuals are unlikely to meet another susceptible person, which means that they generally recover before infecting others.

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Source : The calculus of contagion, 16 September 2014, Aeon.co

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