Ruben Juanes, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said unlike existing models, the new model incorporates variations in travel patterns among individuals, the geographic locations of airports, the disparity in interactions among airports, and waiting times at individual airports to predict where and how fast a disease might spread.
The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found JFK was ranked first by the model, followed by airports in Los Angeles; Honolulu; San Francisco; Newark, N.J.; Chicago's O'Hare; and Washington' Dulles. Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport ranks first in number of flights, but is eighth in contagion influence.
The Honolulu airport gets only 30 percent as much air traffic as New York's Kennedy International, but the new model predicts it is nearly as influential in terms of contagion, because of where it fits in the air transportation network -- 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.
"The results from our model are very different from those of a conventional model that relies on the random diffusion of travelers," first author Christos Nicolaides said in a statement. "If you include diffusion only in the model, the biggest airport hubs in terms of traffic would be the most influential spreaders of disease. But that's not accurate."