Contact structure, mobility, environmental impact and behaviour: The importance of social forces to infectious disease dynamics and disease ecology

Ronan F. Arthur, Emily S. Gurley, Henrik Salje, Laura S.P. Bloomfield, James H. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Human factors, including contact structure, movement, impact on the environment and patterns of behaviour, can have significant influence on the emergence of novel infectious diseases and the transmission and amplification of established ones. As anthropogenic climate change alters natural systems and global economic forces drive land-use and land-cover change, it becomes increasingly important to understand both the ecological and social factors that impact infectious disease outcomes for human populations. While the field of disease ecology explicitly studies the ecological aspects of infectious disease transmission, the effects of the social context on zoonotic pathogen spillover and subsequent human-to-human transmission are comparatively neglected in the literature. The social sciences encompass a variety of disciplines and frameworks for understanding infectious diseases; however, herewe focus on four primary areas of social systems that quantitatively and qualitatively contribute to infectious diseases as social-ecological systems. These areas are social mixing and structure, space and mobility, geography and environmental impact, and behaviour and behaviour change. Incorporation of these social factors requires empirical studies for parametrization, phenomena characterization and integrated theoretical modelling of social-ecological interactions. The social-ecological system that dictates infectious disease dynamics is a complex system rich in interacting variables with dynamically significant heterogeneous properties. Future discussions about infectious disease spillover and transmission in human populations need to address the social context that affects particular disease systems by identifying and measuring qualitatively important drivers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20160454
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1719
StatePublished - Mar 5 2017


  • Complex systems
  • Disease ecology
  • Heterogeneity
  • Infectious disease dynamics
  • Social sciences
  • Social-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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