Epidemiological impacts of post-infection mortality

Chadi M. Saad-Roy, Simon A. Levin, Bryan T. Grenfell, Mike Boots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Infectious diseases may cause some long-term damage to their host, leading to elevated mortality even after recovery. Mortality due to complications from so-called 'long COVID' is a stark illustration of this potential, but the impacts of such post-infection mortality (PIM) on epidemic dynamics are not known. Using an epidemiological model that incorporates PIM, we examine the importance of this effect. We find that in contrast to mortality during infection, PIM can induce epidemic cycling. The effect is due to interference between elevated mortality and reinfection through the previously infected susceptible pool. In particular, robust immunity (via decreased susceptibility to reinfection) reduces the likelihood of cycling; on the other hand, disease-induced mortality can interact with weak PIM to generate periodicity. In the absence of PIM, we prove that the unique endemic equilibrium is stable and therefore our key result is that PIM is an overlooked phenomenon that is likely to be destabilizing. Overall, given potentially widespread effects, our findings highlight the importance of characterizing heterogeneity in susceptibility (via both PIM and robustness of host immunity) for accurate epidemiological predictions. In particular, for diseases without robust immunity, such as SARS-CoV-2, PIM may underlie complex epidemiological dynamics especially in the context of seasonal forcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20230343
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2002
StatePublished - Jul 12 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • epidemiological model
  • periodicity
  • post-infection mortality


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