Sun, Jul 29, 2012 - Page 7 News List

New York’s JFK a key hub in spread of germs: report

AFP, NEW YORK

New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport is a teeming hub for international flights — and globe-trotting germs, a new study says.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) paper published this week named JFK at the top of a list of “super--spreaders” of contagious diseases.

Next in the list came Los Angeles International, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles, MIT said.

Top germ hub status does not mean the airports are disease-ridden themselves.

The study instead measured a wide variety of factors contributing to the airports’ role in the spread of infectious disease. These include travel patterns, geographic location and waiting times.

The idea was to help understand and predict how viruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and avian flu get around and prompt epidemics in an ever-more connected world.

“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,” energy studies professor Ruben Juanes said.

“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,” he added.

The findings can also be counter-intuitive.

The likes of Los Angeles and Chicago are well known for their heavy traffic, but Honolulu gets just 30 percent as much air traffic as New York’s JFK. However, the island airport is “nearly as influential in terms of contagion, because of where it fits in the air transportation network,” the report said.

“Its location in the Pacific Ocean and its many connections to distant, large and well--connected hubs gives it a ranking of third in terms of contagion-spreading influence,” it added.

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