Impact of Air Travel on Global Spread of Infectious Diseases

In 2007, physicists Vittoria Colizza and Alessandro Vespignani developed a large-scale, stochastic, spatial-transmission model to study epidemic spread patterns. In collaboration with graphic designer Elisha F. Hardy, they visualized those modeling results through a map that illustrates the global spreading of emerging infectious diseases. Detailed knowledge of the worldwide population distribution and movement patterns of individuals by air travel is explicitly incorporated into the model to describe the spatio¬temporal evolution of epidemics in our highly interconnected and globalized world. Simulation results can be used to identify the main mechanisms behind observed propagation patterns (e.g., the patched and heterogeneous spreading of the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003) and to provide forecasts for future emerging infectious diseases (e.g., a newly emerging influenza pandemic). Such maps might be of crucial help in the identification, design, and implementation of appropriate intervention strategies aimed at possible containment.

Colizza, Vittoria, Alain Barrat, Marc Barthélemy, and Alessandro Vespignani. 2006. “The Role of the Airline Transportation Network in the Prediction and Predictability of Global Epidemics.” PNAS 103 (7) : 2015-2020.

Colizza, Vittoria, Alessandro Vespignani, and Elisha F. Hardy. 2007. Impact of Air Travel on Global Spread of Infectious Diseases. Courtesy of Indiana University. In “3rd Iteration (2007): The Power of Forecasts,” Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, edited by Katy Börner and Julie M. Davis.