Contrasting animal movement and spatial connectivity networks in shaping transmission pathways of a genetically diverse virus

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Analyses of livestock movement networks has become key to understanding an industry's vulnerability to infectious disease spread and for identifying farms that play disproportionate roles in pathogen dissemination. In addition to animal movements, many pathogens can spread between farms via mechanisms mediated by spatial proximity. Heterogeneities in contact patterns based on spatial proximity are less commonly considered in network studies, and studies that jointly consider spatial connectivity and animal movement are rare. The objective of this study was to determine the extent to which movement versus spatial proximity networks determine the distribution of an economically important endemic virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), within a swine-dense region of the U.S. PRRSV can be classified into numerous phylogenetic lineages. Such data can be used to better resolve between-farm infection chains and elucidate types of contact most associated with transmission. Here, we construct movement and spatial proximity networks; farms within the networks were classified as cases if a given PRRSV lineage had been recovered at least once in a year for each of three years analyzed. We evaluated six lineages and sub-lineages across three years, and evaluated the epidemiological relevance of each network by applying network k-tests to statistically evaluate whether the pattern of case occurrence within the network was consistent with transmission via network linkages. Our results indicated that animal movements, not local area spread, play a dominant role in shaping transmission pathways, though there were differences amongst lineages. The median number of case farms inter-linked via animal movements was approximately 4.1x higher than random expectations (range: 1.7–13.7; p < 0.05, network k-test), whereas this measure was only 2.7x higher than random expectations for farms linked via spatial proximity (range: 1.3–5.4; p < 0.05, network k-test). For spatial proximity networks, contact based on proximities of <5 km appeared to have greater epidemiological relevance than longer distances, likely related to diminishing probabilities of local area spread at greater distances. However, the greater overall levels of connectivity of the spatial network compared to the movement network highlights the vulnerability of pig populations to widespread transmission via this route. By combining genetic data with network analysis, this research advances our understanding of dynamics of between-farm spread of PRRSV, helps establish the relative importance of transmission via animal movements versus local area spread, and highlights the potential for targeted control strategies based upon heterogeneities in network connectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104977
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
StatePublished - May 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge Emily Smith, Juan Sanhueza, Carles Vilalta, and Emily Geary for their role in collating and interpreting data. We also express our thanks to MSHMP participating pig production companies and practitioners for sharing their data. This study was partially funded by the Swine Health Information Center (SHIC) . Funding was also provided by the joint NIFA-NSF-NIH Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease award 2019-67015-29918 and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive grant no. 2018-68008-27890 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Phylogenetics
  • Social network analysis
  • Spatial epidemiology
  • Transmission dynamics


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