Early Real-Time Estimation of the Basic Reproduction Number of Emerging Infectious Diseases
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When an infectious disease strikes a population, the number of newly reported cases is often the only available information during the early stages of the outbreak. An important goal of early outbreak analysis is to obtain a reliable estimate for the basic reproduction number, R-0. Over the past few years, infectious disease epidemic processes have gained attention from the physics community. Much of the work to date, however, has focused on the analysis of an epidemic process in which the disease has already spread widely within a population; conversely, very little attention has been paid, in the physics literature or elsewhere, to formulating the initial phase of an outbreak. Careful analysis of this phase is especially important as it could provide policymakers with insight on how to effectively control an epidemic in its initial stage. We present a novel method, based on the principles of network theory, that enables us to obtain a reliable real-time estimate of the basic reproduction number at an early stage of an outbreak. Our method takes into account the possibility that the infectious period has a wide distribution and that the degree distribution of the underlying contact network is heterogeneous. We validate our analytical framework with numerical simulations.