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Airport ‘Most Likely’ to Spread Disease…

By on July 26, 2012

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:

  • JFK
  • Los Angeles
  • Honolulu
  • 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.

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