John F. Kennedy International Airport is perfectly poised to become the starting point of the next pandemic, according to a new MIT study. Researchers considered the size of the airport, average number of passengers, and connections to other airports, while also using human travel patterns to calculate the chance of any one person traveling from one airport to another. Airports with the widest and most consistent diffusion of passengers around the world were ranked highest on the list of potential viral hotspots, with airports in Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago and Washington trailing Kennedy closely in terms of contagion influence.
In a break with previous research on contagion networks and the spread of disease, the study focuses on the earliest days of the epidemic rather than its highest intensity. In the event of an emergency, this new information could prove useful to world governments and public health officials, according to scientists involved in the study. Knowing easy viral pathways could help authorities protect them from biological warfare, and vaccines could be allocated more efficiently during the crucial first response to a global health crisis like the 2009 H1N1 outbreak
By Clare Coffey
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