ATLANTA, June 19 (UPI) -- As part of an effort to better predict the spread of flu epidemics across the country, researchers have found that aviation and commuter networks are conducive to helping different strains of the virus spread.
Researchers found that aviation networks are key to spreading the virus between countries, but that looking at smaller transportation networks, such as trains and buses, and even school bus routes, can show with larger certainty where and how the virus spreads.
"We found that the spread of a flu epidemic is somewhat predictable by looking at transportation data, especially ground commuter networks and H1N1," said Brooke Bozick, a graduate student in Emory University's Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution program, in a press release. "Finding these kinds of patterns is the first step in being able to develop targeted surveillance and control strategies."
Researchers cross-referenced genetic flu data collected by Genbank between 2003 and 2013 with transportation data for that decade from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics in order to map out air and ground commutes and how people move around the country during flu season.
Looking at the data, they found the H1N1 strain moves more slowly in localized ares, and so may be more likely to spread along smaller distances, and that H3N2 may have a similar pattern, however H3N2 also tends to spread faster from coast to coast, indicating a difference of some sort.
Having seen that patterns do exist, and that strain and human transportation method effects how those patterns develop, researchers plan to next look at the scale on which the viruses spread to better predict and prepare for flu season -- especially in places with higher rates of public transportation use.
"The patterns we found are likely influenced by states with many commuters," Bozick said. "The identification of these states, as well as network pathways that contribute substantially to influenza spread, is an important next step for epidemiological research."
The study is published in PLOS Pathogens.