Cities and villages: Infection hierarchies in a measles metapopulation

B. T. Grenfell, B. M. Bolker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


An important issue in the dynamics of directly transmitted microparasites is the relationship between infection probability and host density. We use models and extensive spatio-temporal data for the incidence of measles to examine evidence for spatial heterogeneity in transmission probability, in terms of urban-rural hierarchies in infection rate. Pre-vaccination measles data for England and Wales show strong evidence for urban-rural heterogeneities in infection rate - the proportion of urban cases rises significantly before major epidemics. The model shows that this effect is consistent with a higher infection rate in large cities, though small towns have epidemic characteristics intermediate between town and country. Surprisingly, urban and rural areas of the same population size have a similar propensity for local extinction of infection. A spatial map of urban-rural correlations reveals complex regional patterns of synchronization of towns and cities. The hierarchical heterogeneities in infection persist into the vaccine era; their implications for disease persistence and control are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-70
Number of pages8
JournalEcology letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Correlation
  • Epidemiology
  • Heterogeneity
  • Infection dynamics
  • Measles
  • Metapopulation
  • Microparasite
  • Vaccination


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