Scale-Free Networks and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Description of Observed Patterns of Sexual Contacts in Britain and Zimbabwe

Abstract

Background: Sexually transmitted infections spread through a network of contacts created by the formation of sexual partnerships. In physics, networks have been characterized as scale-free if they follow a power law with an exponent between 2 and 3.

Objective: The objective of this study was to test statistically whether distributions of numbers of sexual partners reported from different populations are well described by power laws.

Study Design: Power laws and an exponential null model are fitted by maximum likelihood techniques to reported distributions of numbers of partners. Data are taken from 4 population-based surveys, 3 from Britain and 1 from rural Zimbabwe.

Results: The networks can be described by power laws over a number of orders of magnitude. In addition, the derived exponents differ significantly and meaningfully, with an accelerating network formed between men who have sex with men (MSM).

Conclusions: A scale-free network approach provides a reasonable description of distributions of reported numbers of sexual partners.

Citation

Schneeberger, A.; Mercer, C.H.; Gregson, S.A.; Ferguson, N.M.; Nyamukapa, C.A.; Anderson, R.M.; Johnson, A.M.; Garnett, G.P.. Scale-Free Networks and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Description of Observed Patterns of Sexual Contacts in Britain and Zimbabwe. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (2004) 31 (6) 380-387.

Scale-Free Networks and Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Description of Observed Patterns of Sexual Contacts in Britain and Zimbabwe

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