Movies like Outbreak and Contagion show the violent effects of a global epidemic. The idea of the smallest thing on Earth can also be the most deadliest is a scary thought. The air you breathe and the sources or people you physically touch can be the source of pathogens that can lead to killer diseases. Even TV shows like The Walking Dead play on this fear. Questions like how and where did these pathogens originate often linger (no pun intended) in the air.
Researchers from MIT have developed a computer simulator that can pinpoint which US airports are more likely to contribute to a global epidemic and can thus prevent further infection…
This team of diligent researchers was led by Ruben James, an MIT computer engineer, can map out a pathogens “early-time behavior,” which is the first 10 days of an infection outbreak. It takes into consideration an airport location, passenger flight patterns, waiting time and connecting flight schedule. By matching this information together, engineers can study the start and end of a simulated global epidemic.
It isn’t surprising that when these MIT engineers ran their simulation, the airports that were at the highest risk of spreading pathogens quickly and efficiently were New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), Los Angeles International (LAX) and Honolulu (HNL)? These airports were known as “early-time super-spreaders” in the engineers’ reports.
Despite its low-traffic, Honolulu (HNL) ranks higher than other international airports, which are busier like Atlanta International Airport (ATL), because of its mainstay of long-range flights, its international hub capabilities and pattern of flights traveling mostly east to west. In contrast, the Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is mostly contained with flights that stay in North America rather than fully internationally. James said of his research,
“[That it] 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.”
Of course, if there was a zombie outbreak, it wouldn’t matter where it started. Something like that would never be contained or managed. We would just have to find a good shelter, keep moving and pick up a blunt instrument and start swinging away.