The effects of population density on the spread of disease

Patrick Maybery Tarwater, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The objective of this study is to identify the relationship between population density and the initial stages of the spread of disease in a local population. This study proposes to concentrate on the question of how population density affects the distribution of the susceptible individuals in a local population and thus affects the spread of the disease, measles. Population density is measured by the average of the number of contacts with susceptible individuals by each individual in the population during a fixed-length time period. The term “contact with susceptible individuals” means sufficient contact between two people for the disease to pass from an infectious person to a susceptible person. The fixed-length time period is taken to be the average length of time an infected person is infectious without symptoms of the disease. For this study of measles, the time period will be seven days. While much attention has been given to modeling the entire epidemic process of measles, attempts have not been made to study the characteristics of contact rates required to initiate an epidemic. This study explores the relationship between population density, given a specific herd immunity rate in the population, and initial rate of the spread of the disease by considering the underlying distribution of contacts with susceptibles by the individuals in the population. This study does not seek to model an entire measles epidemic, but to model the above stated relationship for the local population within which the first infective person is introduced. This study describes the mathematical relationship between population density parameters and contact distribution parameters. The results are displayed in graphs that show the effects of different population densities on the spread of disease. The results support the idea that the number of new infectives is strongly related to the distribution of susceptible contacts. The results also show large differences in the epidemic measures between populations with densities equal to four versus three.

Subject Area

Public health|Statistics|Microbiology

Recommended Citation

Tarwater, Patrick Maybery, "The effects of population density on the spread of disease" (1999). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9929469.