Dynamics in a simple evolutionary-epidemiological model for the evolution of an initial asymptomatic infection stage

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Pathogens exhibit a rich variety of life history strategies, shaped by natural selection. An important pathogen life history characteristic is the propensity to induce an asymptomatic yet productive (transmissive) stage at the beginning of an infection. This characteristic is subject to complex trade-offs, ranging from immunological considerations to population-level social processes. We aim to classify the evolutionary dynamics of such asymptomatic behavior of pathogens (hereafter "latency") in order to unify epidemiology and evolution for this life history strategy. We focus on a simple epidemiological model with two infectious stages, where hosts in the first stage can be partially or fully asymptomatic. Immunologically, there is a trade-off between transmission and progression in this first stage. For arbitrary trade-offs, we derive different conditions that guarantee either at least one evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) at zero, some, or maximal latency of the first stage or, perhaps surprisingly, at least one unstable evolutionarily singular strategy. In this latter case, there is bistability between zero and nonzero (possibly maximal) latency. We then prove the uniqueness of interior evolutionarily singular strategies for power-law and exponential trade-offs: Thus, bistability is always between zero and maximal latency. Overall, previous multistage infection models can be summarized with a single model that includes evolutionary processes acting on latency. Since small changes in parameter values can lead to abrupt transitions in evolutionary dynamics, appropriate disease control strategies could have a substantial impact on the evolution of first-stage latency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11541
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21
StatePublished - May 26 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Asymptomatic infection stage
  • Evolutionary analysis
  • Pathogen life history strategies


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