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Accumulating infections of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in humans underlines the need to track the ability of these viruses to spread among humans. A human-transmissible avian influenza virus is expected to cause clusters of infections in humans living in close contact. Therefore, epidemiological analysis of infection clusters in human households is of key importance. Infection clusters may arise from transmission events from (i) the animal reservoir, (ii) humans who were infected by animals (primary human-to-human transmission), or (iii) humans who were infected by humans (secondary human-to-human transmission). Here we propose a method of analysing household infection data to detect changes in the transmissibility of avian influenza viruses in humans at an early stage. The method is applied to an outbreak of H7N7 avian influenza virus in The Netherlands that was the cause of more than 30 human-to-human transmission events. The analyses indicate that secondary human-to-human transmission is plausible for the Dutch household infection data. Based on the estimates of the within-household transmission parameters, we evaluate the effectiveness of antiviral prophylaxis, and conclude that it is unlikely that all household infections can be prevented with current antiviral drugs. We discuss the applicability of our method for the detection of emerging human-to-human transmission of avian influenza viruses in particular, and for the analysis of within-household infection data in general.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS computational biology

Publication Date





Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Humans, Population Surveillance, Incidence, Risk Assessment, Risk Factors, Disease Outbreaks, Models, Biological, Computer Simulation, Netherlands, Influenza, Human, Influenza A Virus, H5N1 Subtype, Influenza A Virus, H7N7 Subtype, Disease Transmission, Infectious