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By definition, all pathogens cause some level of harm to their hosts. If this harm occurs while the pathogen is transmitting, it can negatively affect the pathogen's fitness by shortening the duration over which transmission can occur. However, many of the factors that increase virulence (i.e. harm to host) also promote transmission, driving the pathogen population towards an optimal state of intermediate virulence. A wider spectrum of virulence may be maintained among pathogen populations which are structured into multiple discrete strains though direct resource and immune-mediated competition. These various evolutionary outcomes, and the effects of medical and public health interventions, are best understood within a framework that recognizes the complex relationship between transmission and virulence in the context of the antigenic diversity of the pathogen population.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





antigenic diversity, evolution, immunity, public health, vaccination, virulence, Humans, Virulence, Biological Evolution, Host-Pathogen Interactions