Models of virulence evolution generally consider the outcome of competition between resident and mutant parasite strains at or near endemic equilibrium. Less studied is what happens during the initial phases of invasion and adaptation. Understanding initial adaptive dynamics is particularly important in the context of emerging diseases in wildlife and humans, for which rapid and accurate intervention may be of the essence. To address the question of virulence evolution in emerging diseases, we employ a simple stochastic modeling framework. As is intuitive, the pathogen strains most likely to emerge are those with the highest net reproductive rates (R0). We find, however, that stochastic events shape the properties of emerging pathogens in sometimes unexpected ways. First, the mean virulence of emerging pathogens is expected to be larger in dense host populations and/or when transmission is high, due to less restrictive conditions for the spread of the pathogen. Second, a positive correlation between average virulence and transmissibility emerges due to a combination of drift and selection. We conclude that at least in the initial phases of adaptation, special assumptions about constraints need not be invoked to explain some virulence-transmission correlations and that virulence management practices should consider how residual variation in transmission and virulence can be selected to reduce the prevalence and/or virulence of emerging infectious diseases.
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Vol. 59 • No. 7