Infectious diseases and social distancing in nature

05 March 2021 Vol 371, Issue 6533


Infectious diseases and social distancing in nature
By Sebastian Stockmaier, Nathalie Stroeymeyt, Eric C. Shattuck, Dana M. Hawley, Lauren Ancel Meyers, Daniel I. Bolnick
Science05 Mar 2021
Nature’s “responsible” response to disease
With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been global calls for the implementation of “social distancing” to control transmission. Throughout the world, some have resisted this requirement with the unfounded argument that it is unnecessary or ineffective. Social distancing, however, is a natural consequence of disease across animals, both human and nonhuman. Stockmaier et al. reviewed responses to disease across animal taxa and reveal how these responses naturally limit disease transmission. Understanding such natural responses and their impacts on pathogenic transmission provides epidemiological insight into our own responses to pandemic challenges.
Spread of contagious pathogens critically depends on the number and types of contacts between infectious and susceptible hosts. Changes in social behavior by susceptible, exposed, or sick individuals thus have far-reaching downstream consequences for infectious disease spread. Although “social distancing” is now an all too familiar strategy for managing COVID-19, nonhuman animals also exhibit pathogen-induced changes in social interactions. Here, we synthesize the effects of infectious pathogens on social interactions in animals (including humans), review what is known about underlying mechanisms, and consider implications for evolution and epidemiology.