Wet climate and transportation routes accelerate spread of human plague

Lei Xu, Leif Chr. Stige, Kyrre Linné Kausrud, Tamara Ben Ari, Shuchun Wang, Xiye Fang, Boris V. Schmid, Qiyong Liu, Nils Chr. Stenseth, Zhibin Zhang


Currently, large-scale transmissions of infectious diseases are becoming more closely associated with accelerated globalization and climate change, but quantitative analyses are still rare. By using an extensive dataset consisting of date and location of cases for the third plague pandemic from 1772 to 1964 in China and a novel method (nearest neighbour approach) which deals with both short- and long-distance transmissions, we found the presence of major roads, rivers and coastline accelerated the spread of plague and shaped the transmission patterns. We found that plague spread velocity was positively associated with wet conditions (measured by an index of drought and flood events) in China, probably due to flood-driven transmission by people or rodents. Our study provides new insights on transmission patterns and possible mechanisms behind variability in transmission speed, with implications for prevention and control measures. The methodology may also be applicable to studies of disease dynamics or species movement in other systems.

  • Received December 2, 2013.
  • Accepted January 21, 2014.
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