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LAX: For jump-starting a pandemic, we're No. 2! We're No. 2!

July 24, 2012|By Rosie Mestel | Los Angeles Times
  • LAX would rank second in the country as a hub for helping to spread an infectious disease around the world, a mathematical model suggests.
LAX would rank second in the country as a hub for helping to spread an infectious… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Yes, folks, you now have another reason to feel your stress hormones surge when you face the lines at LAX: The Los Angeles International Airport ranks second in the country for efficiently spreading a highly contagious germ around the world in the first few days of an emerging disease, a study by Massachusetts Institite of Technology researchers suggests.

Kennedy Airport beats LAX (go New York!) and Honolulu airport ranks No. 3 (Aloha, emerging pestilence!).

The study, published in the journal PLOS One,  used mathematical models to reach its conclusions. Unlike other similar models aimed at mapping the course of infectious diseases, this one (a) looked at early days, when events were just getting going, and (b) didn’t make assumptions that other models make, its authors said.  For example, it took into account the fact that wait lines can differ from one airport to the next and that travelers embarking at one airport might have different destination patterns than those who embark at others. (Seriously, models don’t generally include these factors? They just assume random diffusion of passengers?)

That’s how come Honolulu, situated as it is in the middle of the Pacific with people traveling to all kinds of far-flung places, ended up nearly as influential as Kennedy, even though it is a lot smaller.

The authors, from MIT’s department of civil and environmental engineering, said their study could have practical applications, such as where to focus vaccine efforts in the event of an emerging, spreading infection along the lines of SARS or a virulent new influenza strain.

Read the article, which is published by a journal that allows free access to all, and the press release from MIT.

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