Spatial pattern formation facilitates eradication of infectious diseases.
Control of animal-born diseases is a major challenge faced by applied ecologists and public health managers. To improve cost-effectiveness, the effort required to control such pathogens needs to be predicted as accurately as possible. In this context, we reviewed the anti-rabies vaccination schemes applied around the world during the past 25 years. We contrasted predictions from classic approaches based on theoretical population ecology (which governs rabies control to date) with a newly developed individual-based model. Our spatially explicit approach allowed for the reproduction of pattern formation emerging from a pathogen's spread through its host population. We suggest that a much lower management effort could eliminate the disease than that currently in operation. This is supported by empirical evidence from historic field data. Adapting control measures to the new prediction would save one-third of resources in future control programmes. The reason for the lower prediction is the spatial structure formed by spreading infections in spatially arranged host populations. It is not the result of technical differences between models. Synthesis and applications. For diseases predominantly transmitted by neighbourhood interaction, our findings suggest that the emergence of spatial structures facilitates eradication. This may have substantial implications for the cost-effectiveness of existing disease management schemes, and suggests that when planning management strategies consideration must be given to methods that reflect the spatial nature of the pathogen-host system.