The role of caretakers in disease dynamics
One of the key challenges in modeling the dynamics of contagion phenomena is to understand how the structure of social interactions shapes the time course of a disease. Complex network theory has provided significant advances in this context. However, awareness of an epidemic in a population typically yields behavioral changes that correspond to changes in the network structure on which the disease evolves. This feedback mechanism has not been investigated in depth. For example, one would intuitively expect susceptible individuals to avoid other infecteds. However, doctors treating patients or parents tending sick children may also increase the amount of contact made with an infecteds, in an effort to speed up recovery but also exposing themselves to higher risks of infection. We study the role of these caretaker links in an adaptive network models where individuals react to a disease by increasing or decreasing the amount of contact they make with infected individuals. We find that pure avoidance, with only few caretaker links, is the best strategy for curtailing an SIS disease in networks that possess a large topological variability. In more homogeneous networks, disease prevalence is decreased for low concentrations of caretakers whereas a high prevalence emerges if caretaker concentration passes a well defined critical value.