Many health-conscious travelers take the time to wash their hands frequently and wipe down their tray table in-flight. But did you realize your health can be affected simply by the airports you frequent, especially if those airports are in New York, Los Angeles or Honolulu.
With SARS and H1N1 a not-so-distant memory, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering focuses on the influence of airports in the spread of pandemics.
The study differs from previous ones on the topic because it focuses on the first 15 days of a pandemic, rather than the locations that ultimately develop the highest rate of infection. This study seeks to determine how likely the 40 largest U.S. airports are to influence the spread of a contagious disease originating in their home cities.
"Our work is the first to look at the spatial spreading of contagion processes at early times, and to propose a predictor for which 'nodes' - in this case, airports - will lead to more aggressive spatial spreading," says Ruben Juanes, the ARCO Associate Professor in Energy Studies in CEE. "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."
While the two airports that ranked highest on the list - New York's John F. Kennedy and Los Angeles International - may come as no surprise because of their size and the volume of people passing through every day, the airport that ranks third is a bit more interesting. Though Honolulu airport carries only 30 percent as much air traffic as JKF, according to the study, it's "nearly as influential in terms of contagion," due to its location. The study said its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well-connected hubs earns it the number-three ranking.