[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 29-Jun-2009
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Contact: Julie Saccone
sacconej@smh.toronto.on.ca
416-864-5047
St. Michael's Hospital

Scientific system accurately predicts spread of H1N1: study

First-of-its-kind system rapidly evaluates global air traffic patterns to predict the international spread of infectious diseases

TORONTO, Ont., June 29, 2009 A new scientific system developed by a St. Michael's Hospital physician, designed to rapidly evaluate the world's air traffic patterns, accurately predicted how the H1N1 virus would spread around the world, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine today.

St. Michael's Hospital scientist and infectious disease physician Dr. Kamran Khan and colleagues analyzed the flight itineraries of the more than 2.3 million passengers departing Mexico on commercial flights during the months of March and April to predict the spread of H1N1. The findings show the international destinations of air travelers leaving Mexico were strongly associated with confirmed importations of the H1N1 virus around the world.

"The relationship between air travel and the spread of H1N1 is intuitive," said Dr. Khan. "However, for the first time, we can quickly integrate information about worldwide air traffic patterns with information about global infectious disease threats. What this means is that cities and countries around the world can now respond to news of a threat earlier and more intelligently than ever before."

The system, developed by Dr. Khan and supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, is known as The BIO.DIASPORA Project. The Project, led by Dr. Khan, was created in response to the Toronto SARS crisis in 2003 to better understand the global airline transportation network and its relationship to the spread of emerging infectious diseases.

"While it is generally understood that air travel can transport infectious diseases around the world, the BIO.DIASPORA Project, has for the first time, provided a very accurate picture of not only where diseases will travel, but how often and when," said Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infectious diseases prevention and control for the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion. "This work provides the world with a potent early warning system for emerging infectious diseases."

Just prior to the onset of the H1N1 epidemic, Dr. Khan and his colleagues submitted a 122-page report to the Public Health Agency of Canada entitled The BIO.DIASPORA Project: An Analysis of Canada's Vulnerability to Emerging Infectious Disease Threats via the Global Airline Transportation Network. Key findings from this report include:

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For more information on The BIO.DIASPORA Project and access to the full report visit www.biodiaspora.com

St. Michael's Hospital is a large and vibrant teaching hospital in the heart of Toronto. The physicians and staff of St. Michael's Hospital provide compassionate care to all who walk through its doors and outstanding medical education to future healthcare professionals in more than 20 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care and care of the homeless and vulnerable populations in the inner city are among the Hospital's recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research at St. Michael's Hospital is recognized, respected and put into practice around the world. Founded in 1892, the Hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.



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