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Front. Phys., 23 March 2023
Sec. Social Physics
Volume 11 - 2023 |

Path analysis method in an epidemic model and stability analysis

www.frontiersin.orgYong Zhou1*, www.frontiersin.orgYiming Ding1 and www.frontiersin.orgMinrui Guo2
  • 1College of Science, Wuhan University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China
  • 2College of Energy Engineering, Huanghuai University, Zhumadian, China

In this paper, a new method for obtaining the basic reproduction number is proposed, called the path analysis method. Compared with the traditional next-generation method, this method is more convenient and less error-prone. We develop a general model that includes most of the epidemiological characteristics and enumerate all disease transmission paths. The path analysis method is derived by combining the next-generation method and the disease transmission paths. Three typical examples verify the effectiveness and convenience of the method. It is important to note that the path analysis method is only applicable to epidemic models with bilinear incidence rates. The Volterra-type Lyapunov function is given to prove the global stability of the system. The simulations prove the correctness of our conclusions.

1 Introduction

Research on the epidemic compartment model began with Kermack–McKendrick’s SIR [1] system. It took the Black Death as the research object and had only one infected population during the illness period. The advantage of the SIR system is that it only needs to focus on the total number of patients per unit time [24]. With the development of medical sciences, it is found that some patients have already been infected before they develop symptoms. Statistics show that most infectious diseases have an asymptomatic infected population, such as COVID-19 [5], SARS [6], and Ebola [7]. Therefore, scholars proposed the SIR [811] model with two infected populations: asymptomatic and symptomatic populations. The asymptomatic population is transformed into a symptomatic population by a certain percentage after a latent period.

In recent years, researchers have developed more complex high-dimensional models based on the transmission characteristics. In [12], the SE1E2I1I2HR model for COVID-19 in Wuhan was established. Infected individuals were divided into four populations, of which E2,I1andI2 were infectious. In [13], the SEQAIJR model consisting of quarantined and isolated populations was developed. The authors divided patients into five populations, four of which were infectious, except for those in the incubation period. In [14], the SCEAIHR model divided people into seven populations, but only three were infectious. Actually, most models divide infected people into multiple populations, but not all are infectious [1517]. This phenomenon will be fully reflected in the basic reproduction number.

The basic reproduction number [1823] is one of the most important indicators of the infectious disease compartment model. Its basic form is R0=Kβ/μ [24], where K is the total population, β is the infection rate, and μ is the elimination rate. When there are multiple compartments, it becomes R0=R01+R02++R0n [25, 26]. Usually, it can be solved by the next-generation method. The value of n depends on the infected populations that are infectious, since a proportion of infected individuals are isolated.

The study of stability is one of the most important subjects in the infectious disease model. Many studies [2735] give the methods for proving the local and global stabilities of the singularities. Lyapunov’s second method and Lasalle’s invariance principle are the most common methods for proving global stability. However, they are not easy to operate because there is no general way to construct a suitable Lyapunov function. In the Lyapunov function toolbox, linear-, quadratic-, and Volterra-type functions are three frequently used functions applied to biological systems. These functions are as follows:


where mi>0,i=1,2,,n. In most cases, it requires linear- and Volterra-type functions to prove the global stabilities of disease-free and endemic equilibrium points, respectively. In [36], a linear-type Lyapunov function to prove the global stability of the disease-free equilibrium was defined. In [37], Ottaviano et al. constructed a suitable Lyapunov function based on the Volterra-type function for the endemic equilibrium point.

In summary, most researchers introduce their models, then calculate the basic reproduction number, and prove the stability of the equilibrium point. These processes are similar but require tedious calculations. Is it possible to obtain a basic reproduction number with universal applicability by building a general model containing the main features? This paper develops a model with n infected populations that can only be transferred from top to bottom. We list all transmission paths and find some important conclusions. The number of the transmission paths for the final infected population is the sum of the combinatorial numbers. The number for all infected populations is twice the sum of the combination numbers. The basic reproduction number of the system is derived by the next-generation method. By decomposing the basic reproduction number formula, we find not all infected populations are infectious, such as those who are isolated and treated. A path analysis method is shown by combining the basic reproduction number formula with the disease transmission paths. This method greatly simplifies the calculation and it is successfully applied in three typical examples. The paper also gives the conditions for the existence of disease-free and endemic equilibrium points. Their global stabilities are proved by two Lyapunov functions with linear- and Volterra-type tools. Simulations verify the conclusions.

2 Model and method

Individuals are divided into three categories, susceptible (S), infected (I), and recovered (R) populations. Infected populations are divided into n populations, which can be denoted as I1,I2,,In. I1 is the asymptomatic population, and I2,I3,,In are symptomatic populations. All symptomatic infected individuals go through an asymptomatic period. Ii comes from I1,I2,,Ii1 and will be transferred to Ii+1,Ii+2,,In with 1<i<n. The compartment model can be represented by Figure 1 and system 1. The incidence rate is i=1nβiSIi. The input rate and natural mortality are Λ and μ. μi is the mortality of Ii. rqp represents the conversion rate from Ip to Iq. The transmission paths are shown in Table 1. It can be concluded that In comes from 2n2 paths: 2n2=Cn20+Cn21+Cn22++Cn2n2. The number of the paths for In is equal to the sum of all combinatorial numbers. The sum of the total transmission paths of I1,I2,I3,,In is 2n1. The total population is N=S+i=1nIi+R. By deriving the equation, we obtain the following equation:



FIGURE 1. Disease transmission paths.


TABLE 1. Simulation parameter values for chapter 5.

Here, the next-generation method [38] is used to calculate the basic reproduction number. We rewrite system 1 as (I1,I2,I3,,In,S,R). It can be expressed as follows:


F and V are the Jacobian matrices of rix and hix. Then, we obtain


where 1i,jn. The basic reproduction number R0 is the spectral radius of FV1. The elements of F are all zero except these at the first row. So, we only need to consider the first column of V1. It is given by








Here, the basic reproduction number consists of R0Ii that is contributed by Ii. Ai represents the elimination rate of infected population Ii, and 1/Ai can be seen as the illness period. It is found that R0Ii is equal to the product of infection rate, population size, and illness period. I1 comes from 1 path SI1. Its population size is Λ/μ. The infection and elimination rates are β1 and 1/A1. I1 contributes β1Λ/μA1. I2 comes from 1 path I1I2. Its population size is Λr21/μA1. The infection and elimination rates are β2 and 1/A2. I2 contributes β2Λr21/μA1A2. I3 comes from 2 paths I1I3, I1I2I3. Its population size is from I1 and I2, which can be shown as Λr31/μA1 and Λr21r32/μA1A2. The infection and elimination rates are β3 and 1/A3. So, I3 contributes β3Λr31/μA1A3+β3Λr21r32/μA1A2A3. The contribution of In can be obtained by analogy. Thus, we can get the basic reproduction number with very little calculations. We define this process as a path analysis method that can be applied for the bilinear compartment models. The key is to find out all transmission paths and different population sizes.

3 Application examples

For high-dimensional epidemic model, it is cumbersome and error-prone to derive the basic reproduction number using the next-generation method. In this section, we use the path analysis method of Section 2 to directly give the basic reproduction numbers for three bilinear compartment models without any calculation.

In [37], system (2) has two populations with infection capability, which are called asymptomatic At and infected It populations. At comes from the path SA, and It comes from the path AI. According to the path analysis method, the basic reproduction number can be expressed as R0=R0A+R0I. The total population is μ+γ/μ+ν+γ through the first equation of the system. The population sizes of At and It are μ+γ/μ+ν+γ and αμ+γ/(μ+ν+γ α+δA+μ. The infection rates of At and It are βA and βI. The elimination rates are 1/α+δA+μ and 1/δI+μ. At and It contribute


Therefore, the basic reproduction number is as follows:


System (3) with nine dimensions has been developed in [25] to depict the transmission of COVID-19. The first equation reveals that Iss,Ims, and Ia are infectious. Iss,Ims, and Ia come from the paths SEIss, SEIms, and SEIa, respectively. So, the basic reproduction number can be


shown as R0=R0Iss+R0Ims+R0Ia. The infection rates of the three populations are β. The elimination rates of Iss, Ims, and Ia are 1/h, 1/γ3, and 1/γ3. The population sizes of Iss, Ims, and Ia are p1, p2, and 1p1p2. Iss, Ims, and Ia contribute


The basic reproduction number is as follows:


In [13], an epidemic model (4) incorporating quarantine was built to predict the COVID-19 trend in the United Kingdom. The first equation shows that the quarantine Qt, asymptomatic At, symptomatic It, and isolated Jt populations are infectious in this system. Qt, At, and It come from the paths SEQ, SEA, and SEI. Jt is from two paths SEQJ and SEIJ. The basic reproduction number can be denoted as R0=R0Q+R0A+R0I+R0J1+R0J2. The population sizes of Qt, At, and It are 1. The population size of Jt can be divided into two parts. One part from Qt is k2/k2+σ1+μ. The other part from It is γ2/γ2+σ3+μ. The infection rates of Qt, At, It, and Jt are rQβ, rAβ, β, and rJβ. The elimination rates are 1/k2+σ1+μ),1/σ2+μ),1/γ2+σ3+μ and 1/δ+σ4+μ. Qt, At, It, and Jt contribute


The basic reproduction number is


4 Global stability analysis

4.1 Global stability analysis of the disease-free equilibrium point

Theorem 4.1:. The disease-free equilibrium point of system (1) is Λ/μ,0,0,,0. It is globally stable if R0<1.Proof. Let Ii=R=0,i=1,2,,n. Then, we get Λ/μ,0,0,,0 as the disease-free equilibrium point. We define a linear function as follows:


where mq=p=0nqβq+pΛμi=q+p+1nAii=qq+p1ri+1ii=qnAirq1, i=1,2,,q,,n. Calculating the time derivative of V along the solutions of system (1), we have


When R0<1, dVdt<0. According to Lyapunov’s second method [3943], the disease-free equilibrium point is globally stable.

4.2 Global stability analysis of the endemic equilibrium point

Theorem 4.2:. When R0>1, system (1) has an endemic equilibrium point, and it is globally stable.Proof. According to the equilibrium solution of system (1), we can arrive at


Therefore, when R0>1, system (1) has an endemic equilibrium point. The endemic equilibrium point can be represented as S*,I1*,I2*,,In*,R*. We define a Volterra-type Lyapunov function


We denote


Differentiating L along system (1), we have


By calculation, we can get


Finally, we get


According to Lyapunov’s second method, the endemic equilibrium point is globally stable.

5 Model simulation

We demonstrate the stabilities of the disease-free and endemic equilibrium points with 1, 2, 3, and 4 infected populations through simulations. Supplementary Material S1 gives the values of the parameters in different cases. When the infection rate α of I1 is taken as 0.0001, 0.0002, and 0.0003, Figure 2A demonstrates the global stability of the disease-free equilibrium point with R0<1. As it is taken as 0.0004, 0.0006, and 0.0008, Figure 2B demonstrates the global stability of the endemic equilibrium point with R0>1. Figures 2C–F show the global stabilities of the equilibrium points with n=2. Figures 3, 4 show the conclusions with n=3,4.


FIGURE 2. (A, B) The time series diagrams for n=1. (C–F) The time series diagrams for n=2.


FIGURE 3. The time series diagrams for n=3.


FIGURE 4. The time series diagrams for n=4.

6 Conclusion and discussions

This paper constructs a general epidemic system with bilinear incidence rates. It contains n infected populations, where the first is the latent population. The transmission paths follow the top–down principle. We give all the disease transmission paths and find the number is equal to the sum of the combinatorial numbers. The basic reproduction number of our system has a reliable biological explanation and rigorous mathematical structure. It can be seen as the sum of the basic reproduction numbers of several infected populations with the ability to spread. We deform its structure and combine it with the disease transmission paths. A new method for calculating the basic reproduction number, the path analysis method, is proposed. The path analysis method is successfully applied to three representative examples containing different dimensions. Compared with the traditional next-generation method, the path analysis method greatly simplifies the calculation. It is possible to obtain the basic reproduction numbers of high-dimensional epidemic models without tedious calculations. The linear- and Volterra-type Lyapunov functions are used to prove the global stabilities of the disease-free and endemic equilibrium points. The global stability conditions are consistent with other studies. Simulations of the systems with 1, 2, 3, and 4 infected populations show that the infected populations converge to 0 when R0<1 and to a constant when R0>1. The path analysis method and the Volterra-type Lyapunov functions are not applicable to the systems with the nonlinear incidence rates, such as the Holling-type functions. For the simultaneous transmission of multiple infectious diseases, the path analysis method is also not feasible.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/Supplementary Material; further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Author contributions

YZ: conceptualization, methodology, software, and writing—original draft preparation. YD: visualization, investigation and supervision. MG: writing—reviewing and editing. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 12271418).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors, and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:


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Keywords: path analysis method, basic reproduction number, transmission paths, Lyapunov functions, stability

Citation: Zhou Y, Ding Y and Guo M (2023) Path analysis method in an epidemic model and stability analysis. Front. Phys. 11:1158814. doi: 10.3389/fphy.2023.1158814

Received: 04 February 2023; Accepted: 09 March 2023;
Published: 23 March 2023.

Edited by:

Chengyi Xia, Tiangong University, China

Reviewed by:

Qianqian Zheng, Xuchang University, China
Olumuyiwa James Peter, University of Medical Sciences, Ondo, Nigeria
Guodong Zhang, South-Central University for Nationalities, China

Copyright © 2023 Zhou, Ding and Guo. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Yong Zhou,