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Airports in N.Y., L.A., Hawaii Deemed Worst for Pandemic Spread

WEDNESDAY July 25, 2012 -- Among airports in the United States, JFK in New York City, LAX in Los Angeles and Honolulu International Airport in Hawaii are most likely to play a major role in the spread of a pandemic, according to a new study.

Recent global public health crises -- such as the 2009 H1N1 "swine" flu pandemic that killed about 300,000 worldwide and the 2003 SARS outbreak that affected 37 countries and caused about 1,000 deaths -- have increased awareness about how air travel can help quickly spread dangerous bacteria and viruses around the world.

In this study, researchers in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used a new mathematical model to determine how the 40 largest U.S. airports would influence the spread of a contagious disease that originated in the cities where the airports are located.

John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City would have the most influence, followed by airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago (O'Hare) and Washington, D.C. (Dulles), the investigators found.

Even though it handles the largest number of flights, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport ranks eighth in influence. Boston's Logan International Airport ranks 15th, according to the study published online July 19 in the journal PLoS One.

The MIT model differs from existing models in that it incorporates factors such as variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, and waiting times at individual airports.

"The findings could form the basis for an initial evaluation of vaccine allocation strategies in the event of an outbreak, and could inform national security agencies of the most vulnerable pathways for biological attacks in a densely connected world," researcher Ruben Juanes, an associate professor in energy studies in civil and environmental engineering, explained in an MIT news release.

More information

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has more about pandemics.

Posted: July 2012


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