Dafilis MP, Frascoli F, McVernon J, Heffernan JM, McCaw JM, Dynamical crises, multistability and the influence of the duration of immunity in a seasonally-forced model of disease transmission, Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 11:43 (2014). doi:10.1186/1742-4682-11-43
Highly successful strategies to make populations more resilient to infectious diseases, such as childhood vaccinations programs, may nonetheless lead to unpredictable outcomes due to the interplay between seasonal variations in transmission and a population’s immune status.Motivated by the study of diseases such as pertussis we introduce a seasonally-forced susceptible-infectious-recovered model of disease transmission with waning and boosting of immunity. We study the system’s dynamical properties using a combination of numerical simulations and bifurcation techniques, paying particular attention to the properties of the initial condition space.We find that highly unpredictable behaviour can be triggered by changes in biologically relevant model parameters such as the duration of immunity. In the particular system we analyse–used in the literature to study pertussis dynamics–we identify the presence of an initial-condition landscape containing three coexisting attractors. The system’s response to interventions which perturb population immunity (e.g. vaccination “catch-up” campaigns) is therefore difficult to predict.Given the increasing use of models to inform policy decisions regarding vaccine introduction and scheduling and infectious diseases intervention policy more generally, our findings highlight the importance of thoroughly investigating the dynamical properties of those models to identify key areas of uncertainty. Our findings suggest that the often stated tension between capturing biological complexity and utilising mathematically simple models is perhaps more nuanced than generally suggested. Simple dynamical models, particularly those which include forcing terms, can give rise to incredibly complex behaviour.