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Relevance of backtracking paths in epidemic spreading on networks

Claudio Castellano, Romualdo Pastor-Satorras

posted on 28 October 2018

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The understanding of epidemics on networks has greatly benefited from the recent application of message-passing approaches, which allow to derive exact results for irreversible spreading (i.e. diseases with permanent acquired immunity) in locally-tree like topologies. This success has suggested the application of the same approach to reversible epidemics, for which an individual can contract the epidemic and recover repeatedly. The underlying assumption is that backtracking paths (i.e. an individual is reinfected by a neighbor he/she previously infected) do not play a relevant role. In this paper we show that this is not the case for reversible epidemics, since the neglect of backtracking paths leads to a formula for the epidemic threshold that is qualitatively incorrect in the large size limit. Moreover we define a modified reversible dynamics which explicitly forbids direct backtracking events and show that this modification completely upsets the phenomenology.