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Ecological interference between fatal diseases


An important issue in population biology is the dynamic interaction between pathogens. Interest has focused mainly on the indirect interaction of pathogen strains, mediated by cross immunity1,2,3,4. However, a mechanism has recently been proposed for ‘ecological interference’ between pathogens through the removal of individuals from the susceptible pool after an acute infection. To explore this possibility, we have analysed and modelled historical measles and whooping cough records. Here we show that ecological interference is particularly strong when fatal infections permanently remove susceptibles. Disease interference has substantial dynamical consequences, making multi-annual outbreaks of different infections characteristically out of phase. So, when disease prevalence is high and is associated with significant mortality, it might be impossible to understand epidemic patterns by studying pathogens in isolation. This new ecological null model has important consequences for understanding the multi-strain dynamics of pathogens such as dengue and echoviruses.

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Figure 1: Analysis of the two-disease model dynamics.
Figure 2: Weekly case fatality reports for measles (black) and whooping cough (grey) in five European cities.
Figure 3: Temporal synchrony of strains, produced by a stochastic three-disease model.

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We thank O. Bjornstad, M. Boots, D. Gubler and H. Wearing for comments on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to P. Rohani.

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Rohani, P., Green, C., Mantilla-Beniers, N. et al. Ecological interference between fatal diseases. Nature 422, 885–888 (2003).

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