Royal Society Publishing

Bubonic plague: a metapopulation model of a zoonosis

M. J Keeling, C. A Gilligan


Bubonic plague (Yersinia pestis) is generally thought of as a historical disease; however, it is still responsible for around 1000–3000 deaths each year worldwide. This paper expands the analysis of a model for bubonic plague that encompasses the disease dynamics in rat, flea and human populations. Some key variables of the deterministic model, including the force of infection to humans, are shown to be robust to changes in the basic parameters, although variation in the flea searching efficiency, and the movement rates of rats and fleas will be considered throughout the paper. The stochastic behaviour of the corresponding metapopulation model is discussed, with attention focused on the dynamics of rats and the force of infection at the local spatial scale. Short–lived local epidemics in rats govern the invasion of the disease and produce an irregular pattern of human cases similar to those observed. However, the endemic behaviour in a few rat subpopulations allows the disease to persist for many years. This spatial stochastic model is also used to identify the criteria for the spread to human populations in terms of the rat density. Finally, the full stochastic model is reduced to the form of a probabilistic cellular automaton, which allows the analysis of a large number of replicated epidemics in large populations. This simplified model enables us to analyse the spatial properties of rat epidemics and the effects of movement rates, and also to test whether the emergent metapopulation behaviour is a property of the local dynamics rather than the precise details of the model.