Manipulation of contact network structure and the impact on foot-and-mouth disease transmission

Preventative Veterinary Medicine

The movements of livestock between premises and markets can be characterised as a dynamic network where the structure of the network itself can critically impact the transmission dynamics of many infectious diseases.

As evidenced by the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) epidemic in the UK, this can involve transmission over large geographical distances and can result in major economic loss. One consequence of the FMD epidemic was the introduction of mandatory livestock movement restrictions: a 13-day standstill in Scotland for cattle and sheep after moving livestock onto a farm (allowing many exemptions), and a 6-day standstill for cattle and sheep in England and Wales (with minor exemptions, e.g. direct movements to slaughter). Such standstills are known to be effective but commercial considerations result in pressures to relax them.

When contemplating legislative changes such as a change in length of movement restrictions we need to consider the consequent effect these could have on the emergent properties of the system, i.e. the network structure itself. In this study, we investigate how disease dynamics change when the local contact structure of the recorded livestock movement network in Scotland is altered through rewiring movements between premises.

The network rewiring used here changes the structure of the recorded trade network through a combination of altered movement restrictions and redirection of movements between holdings and markets to avoid nonsensical activity (e.g. movements to markets on days when they are inactive) while conserving other characteristics (e.g. movement date as closely as possible and market sales of the correct animal production type). Rewiring results in networks with higher clustering coefficients and lower network density. The impact of rewiring on a hypothetical foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Scotland was assessed by stochastic simulation, considering scenarios with and without exemptions to the standstill rules. As expected, rewiring leads to a decrease in outbreak size and - if standstill exemptions are prohibited – higher probability of smaller outbreaks. Without exemptions, a shorter movement standstill is almost as effective as a longer standstill period, indicating that a simpler biosecurity system would offer minimal additional risk for FMD. These results suggest that explicitly manipulating the contact network structure in a sensible way has the potential to significantly impact disease control.

Sybille Mohr 2022 Colourized

Dr Sibylle Mohr

Mathematical Modeller,

University of Glasgow