Who acquires infection from whom and how? Disentangling multi-host and multi-mode transmission dynamics in the ‘elimination’ era
Multi-host infectious agents challenge our abilities to understand, predict and manage disease dynamics. Within this, many infectious agents are also able to use, simultaneously or sequentially, multiple modes of transmission. Furthermore, the relative importance of different host species and modes can itself be dynamic, with potential for switches and shifts in host range and/or transmission mode in response to changing selective pressures, such as those imposed by disease control interventions. The epidemiology of such multi-host, multi-mode infectious agents thereby can involve a multi-faceted community of definitive and intermediate/secondary hosts or vectors, often together with infectious stages in the environment, all of which may represent potential targets, as well as specific challenges, particularly where disease elimination is proposed. Here, we explore, focusing on examples from both human and animal pathogen systems, why and how we should aim to disentangle and quantify the relative importance of multi-host multi-mode infectious agent transmission dynamics under contrasting conditions, and ultimately, how this can be used to help achieve efficient and effective disease control.This article is part of the themed issue 'Opening the black box: re-examining the ecology and evolution of parasite transmission'.