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Airport ‘Most Likely’ to Spread Disease…
If you were a contagious disease which of America’s airports would you most likely call home – researchers say disease would spread most quickly from New York’s Kennedy International Airport. Pass the hand sanitizer, please!
Ruben Juanes, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said unlike existing models, the new model incorporates variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, the disparity in interactions among airports, and waiting times at individual airports to predict where and how fast a disease might spread. Public health crises, like SARS in 2003, Foot-and-mouth disease in 2004-05 or the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, have demonstrated how easy it is for diseases to spread around the world via air travel.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, ranked ‘disease spreading’ airports this way:
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- Newark, N.J.
- Chicago’s O’Hare
- Washington’ Dulles
- Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson
The Honolulu airport gets only 30% as much air traffic as New York’s Kennedy International, but the new model predicts it is nearly as influential in terms of contagion, because of where it fits in the air transportation network — its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs gives it a ranking of third in terms of contagion-spreading influence.
“The results from our model are very different from those of a conventional model that relies on the random diffusion of travelers,” first author Christos Nicolaides said in a statement. “If you include diffusion only in the model, the biggest airport hubs in terms of traffic would be the most influential spreaders of disease. But that’s not accurate.”
Although the study, does not go out of its way to match specific diseases with specific airports so it’s a good idea to be precautious when using air travel. Public health professionals would encourage using hand sanitizer, being mindful of your seat partner who may be ill, assessing in-flight food options for potential bacteria, and simply not traveling when you are ill.