Structure, space and size: competing drivers of variation in urban and rural measles transmission

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A key concern in public health is whether disparities exist between urban and rural areas. One dimension of potential variation is the transmission of infectious diseases. In addition to potential differences between urban and rural local dynamics, the question of whether urban and rural areas participate equally in national dynamics remains unanswered. Specifically, urban and rural areas may diverge in local transmission as well as spatial connectivity, and thus risk for receiving imported cases. Finally, the potential confounding relationship of spatial proximity with size and urban/rural district type has not been addressed by previous research. It is rare to have sufficient data to explore these questions thoroughly. We use exhaustive weekly case reports of measles in 954 urban and 468 rural districts of the UK (1944-1965) to compare both local disease dynamics as well as regional transmission. We employ the time-series susceptible-infected-recovered model to estimate disease transmission, epidemic severity, seasonality and import dependence. Congruent with past results, we observe a clear dependence on population size for the majority of these measures. We use a matched-pair strategy to compare proximate urban and rural districts and control for possible spatial confounders. This analytical strategy reveals a modest difference between urban and rural areas. Rural areas tend to be characterized by more frequent, smaller outbreaks compared to urban counterparts. The magnitude of the difference is slight and the results primarily reinforce the importance of population size, both in terms of local and regional transmission. In sum, urban and rural areas demonstrate remarkable epidemiological similarity in this recent UK context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20200010
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number168
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


  • disease transmission
  • measles
  • principal components analysis
  • rural
  • urban


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