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Certain Airports Are Disease-Spread Hot Spots

M.I.T. researchers used real traveler patterns, geographical information and airport waiting times to predict what U.S. airports are most likely to spread an epidemic from its origin. Katherine Harmon reports

The security lines at JFK and LAX can be horrendous. But these airports have something in common worse than the gripes of jaded travelers. A new study finds that they, along with Honolulu International Airport, are the most likely to facilitate the spread of a major pandemic.

Researchers at M.I.T. used real traveler patterns, geographical information and airport waiting times to predict what U.S. airports are most likely to spread an epidemic from its origin. The findings are reported in the journal Public Library of Science ONE. [Christos Nicolaides et al., "A Metric of Influential Spreading during Contagion Dynamics through the Air Transportation Network"]

The surprise is that the key airports are not necessarily the largest or busiest.

Previous research had focused on how easily pandemics can spread globally via air travel once they were in late stages. In those cases, the largest and best-connected airports are indeed the deadliest hubs. But the new work shows that in the first 10 days of an epidemic, other travel centers might be the spreading hot spots. This information could help improve control strategies when the next contagion strikes.

—Katherine Harmon

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]     

 

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