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Emerg Infect Dis. 2007 Sep;13(9):1288-94. doi: 10.3201/eid1309.070081.

Frequent travelers and rate of spread of epidemics.

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Medical Research Council Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling, Department of Infectious Disease and Epidemiology, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.


A small proportion of air travelers make disproportionately more journeys than the rest of travelers. They also tend to interact predominantly with other frequent travelers in hotels and airport lounges. This group has the potential to accelerate global spread of infectious respiratory diseases. Using an epidemiologic model, we simulated exportation of cases from severe acute respiratory syndrome-like and influenza-like epidemics in a population for which a small proportion travel more frequently than the rest. Our simulations show that frequent travelers accelerate international spread of epidemics only if they are infected early in an outbreak and the outbreak does not expand rapidly. If the epidemic growth rate is high, as is likely for pandemic influenza, heterogeneities in travel are frequently overwhelmed by the large number of infected persons in the majority population and the resulting high probability that some of these persons will take an international flight.

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