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Hospital physician develops system that uses air travel patterns to predict spread of disease

St. Michael's Hospital physician Dr. Kamran Khan has developed a new scientific system that predicted the spread of the H1N1 virus earlier this year by analyzing commercial air travel patterns.

Toronto, June 29, 2009

Art Donation Dr. Kamran Khan

St. Michael's Hospital physician Dr. Kamran Khan has developed a new scientific system that predicted the spread of the H1N1 virus earlier this year by analyzing commercial air travel patterns.

"It's intuitive that were people are travelling, infectious diseases are likely to follow in tandem," said Dr. Khan. "What makes the system different or valuable I think is that for the first time we are able to do this on a moment's notice."

Dr. 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, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show the international destinations of air travelers leaving Mexico were strongly associated with imported cases of the H1N1 virus around the world.

Known as The BIO.DIASPORA Project, the system was developed by Dr. Khan and supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

"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."

Key findings from The BIO.DIASPORA Project: An Analysis of Canada's Vulnerability to Emerging Infectious Disease Threats via the Global Airline Transportation Network are available at www.biodiaspora.com.