The Scaling of Human Contacts and Epidemic Processes in Metapopulation Networks

Michele Tizzoni, Kaiyuan Sun, Diego Benusiglio, Márton Karsai, Nicola Perra
doi: 10.1038/srep15111.
October 19, 2015


We study the dynamics of reaction-diffusion processes on heterogeneous metapopulation networks where interaction rates scale with subpopulation sizes. We first present new empirical evidence, based on the analysis of the interactions of 13 million users on Twitter, that supports the scaling of human interactions with population size with an exponent γ ranging between 1.11 and 1.21, as observed in recent studies based on mobile phone data. We then integrate such observations into a reaction- diffusion metapopulation framework. We provide an explicit analytical expression for the global invasion threshold which sets a critical value of the diffusion rate below which a contagion process is not able to spread to a macroscopic fraction of the system. In particular, we consider the Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered epidemic model. Interestingly, the scaling of human contacts is found to facilitate the spreading dynamics. This behavior is enhanced by increasing heterogeneities in the mobility flows coupling the subpopulations. Our results show that the scaling properties of human interactions can significantly affect dynamical processes mediated by human contacts such as the spread of diseases, ideas and behaviors.

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