Smith CA & Ashby B. Efficient coupling of within- and between-host infectious disease dynamics. arXiv 2312.11592
Mathematical models of infectious disease transmission typically neglect within-host dynamics. Yet within-host dynamics – including pathogen replication, host immune responses, and interactions with microbiota – are crucial not only for determining the progression of disease at the individual level, but also for driving within-host evolution and onwards transmission, and therefore shape dynamics at the population level. Various approaches have been proposed to model both within- and between-host dynamics, but these typically require considerable simplifying assumptions to couple processes at contrasting scales (e.g., the within-host dynamics quickly reach a steady state) or are computationally intensive. Here we propose a novel, readily adaptable and broadly applicable method for modelling both within- and between-host processes which can fully couple dynamics across scales and is both realistic and computationally efficient. By individually tracking the deterministic within-host dynamics of infected individuals, and stochastically coupling these to continuous host state variables at the population-level, we take advantage of fast numerical methods at both scales while still capturing individual transient within-host dynamics and stochasticity in transmission between hosts. Our approach closely agrees with full stochastic individual-based simulations and is especially useful when the within-host dynamics do not rapidly reach a steady state or over longer timescales to track pathogen evolution. By applying our method to different pathogen growth scenarios we show how common simplifying assumptions fundamentally change epidemiological and evolutionary dynamics.