Methods: We describe analyses of cross-sectional data using structural equation models (SEMs), a contemporary advancement on traditional regression approaches, based on our study system of feline gammaherpesvirus (FcaGHV1) in domestic cats.
Results: SEMs strongly supported a latent (host phenotype) variable associated with FcaGHV1 exposure and co-infection risk, suggesting these individuals are simply more likely to become infected with multiple pathogens. However, indications of pathogen-covariance (potential facilitation) were also variably detected: potentially among FcaGHV1, Bartonella spp, and Mycoplasma spp.
Conclusions: Our models suggest multiple exposures are primarily driven by host phenotypic traits, such as aggressive male phenotypes, and secondarily by pathogen-pathogen interactions. The results of this study demonstrate the application of SEMs to understanding epidemiological processes using observational data, and could be used more widely as a complementary tool to understand complex cross-sectional information in a wide variety of disciplines.