Canadian researchers have designed a system based on air travel patterns to predict how infectious diseases will spread around the world, offering a means of halting transmission by taking preventive measures as soon as an outbreak occurs.
The system, developed by infectious disease physician Dr. Kamran Khan and colleagues, accurately predicted how the H1N1 flu virus would circulate worldwide after arising in Mexico earlier this year.
Using their BIO.DIASPORA system, the team analyzed the flight itineraries of more than 2.3 million passengers who departed Mexico on commercial flights during March and April 2008 to predict the spread of H1N1 a year later.
The findings show the international destinations of air travellers leaving Mexico were strongly associated with confirmed importations of the virus around the world.
“We know that infectious diseases don’t respect national boundaries, but if there is one thing they have to respect as they’re spreading around the globe, it’s the architecture of the airline transportation system,” said Khan of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.