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Taking Airborne Won’t Help You: The Top Airports for Spreading Disease

You might want to give that trip to Maui a little more thought. Don’t start packing until you take a look at a list of U.S. airports ordered by their likeliness to spread infectious disease. Researchers at MIT have taken a variety of factors into account for determining which airports are most likely to be the hubs of global disease spread. Laguardia or JFK may be a more serious decision than you thought.

With the amount we travel in this day and age, spreading pathogens is as easy as buying an airline ticket. Airports will act as the hubs of global pandemics and, because you can’t find a bacteria with a metal detector, not much can be done to prevent a pathogen from flying from country to country and continent to continent.

That’s where a team from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology comes in. The team designed a simulation using airline data collected from 2007 to 2010 to analyze 1,833 U.S. airports. The simulation used this data to construct a grid of major U.S. airports, ranking them in terms of their “geographic spreading centrality” or how widespread their connections are. Ruben Juanes, one of the MIT researchers, said in PLoS ONE, “You are a good spreader if your neighbors are good spreaders.”

So, which airports top the list? Which ones should you avoid like the plague to avoid spreading the plague? The first two are no surprise: New York City’s JFK comes in at number one with Los Angeles’ LAX a close second. Number three is Honolulu. Weird, right? If it’s on a tiny isolated island, how could it spread germs so effectively? It’s in the middle of everything! It has passengers from around the world flying in and out every day and bringing more than their sun tan lotion with them. Washington Dulles ranks seventh, Anchorage actually makes the list at number 21, and way down at number 40 is Kentucky’s Louisville International.

So next time you fly, remember that you could be carrying a deadly pathogen with you that you are completely unaware of, making everything you touch a biohazard, infecting people from around the globe, spreading disease far and wide, and helping contribute to the eventual demise of our species on planet Earth. Bon voyage!

(via Science News)

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