Rolls DA, Wang P, McBryde E, Pattison P, Robins G. A Simulation Study Comparing Epidemic Dynamics on Exponential Random Graph and Edge-Triangle Configuration Type Contact Network Models. PLoS One. 2015;10(11):e0142181. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142181
We compare two broad types of empirically grounded random network models in terms of their abilities to capture both network features and simulated Susceptible-Infected-Recovered (SIR) epidemic dynamics. The types of network models are exponential random graph models (ERGMs) and extensions of the configuration model. We use three kinds of empirical contact networks, chosen to provide both variety and realistic patterns of human contact: a highly clustered network, a bipartite network and a snowball sampled network of a “hidden population”. In the case of the snowball sampled network we present a novel method for fitting an edge-triangle model. In our results, ERGMs consistently capture clustering as well or better than configuration-type models, but the latter models better capture the node degree distribution. Despite the additional computational requirements to fit ERGMs to empirical networks, the use of ERGMs provides only a slight improvement in the ability of the models to recreate epidemic features of the empirical network in simulated SIR epidemics. Generally, SIR epidemic results from using configuration-type models fall between those from a random network model (i.e., an Erdős-Rényi model) and an ERGM. The addition of subgraphs of size four to edge-triangle type models does improve agreement with the empirical network for smaller densities in clustered networks. Additional subgraphs do not make a noticeable difference in our example, although we would expect the ability to model cliques to be helpful for contact networks exhibiting household structure.