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Transmissible infections such as those caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spread according to who contacts whom. Therefore, many epidemic models incorporate contact patterns through contact matrices. Contact matrices can be generated from social contact survey data. However, the resulting matrices are often imbalanced, such that the total number of contacts reported by group A with group B do not match those reported by group B with group A. We examined the theoretical influence of imbalanced contact matrices on the estimated basic reproduction number (R0). We then explored how imbalanced matrices may bias model-based epidemic projections using an illustrative simulation model of SARS-CoV-2 with 2 age groups (<15 and ≥15 years). Models with imbalanced matrices underestimated the initial spread of SARS-CoV-2, had later time to peak incidence, and had smaller peak incidence. Imbalanced matrices also influenced cumulative infections observed per age group, as well as the estimated impact of an age-specific vaccination strategy. Stratified transmission models that do not consider contact balancing may generate biased projections of epidemic trajectory and the impact of targeted public health interventions. Therefore, modeling studies should implement and report methods used to balance contact matrices for stratified transmission models. © The Author(s) 2024. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


Mackenzie A Hamilton, Jesse Knight, Sharmistha Mishra. Examining the Influence of Imbalanced Social Contact Matrices in Epidemic Models. American journal of epidemiology. 2024 Feb 05;193(2):339-347

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PMID: 37715459

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