Coronaviruses derive their name from the corona visible in
images such as this 1975 transmission electron micrograph
of infectious bronchitis viruses
When a 49-year-old Qatari man fell ill in England this month, doctors realized that his respiratory problems and kidney failure were due to a previously unknown virus. Earlier this year, a nearly identical virus, 99.5 percent genetically identical to be exact, killed a middle-aged Saudi man. While a new disease is always cause for caution, there have been only two confirmed cases thus far. So what’s the worry? The problem is that this new virus belongs to a family called coronaviruses, a family that includes the common cold…and the deadly and fast-spreading Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
Every summer since West Nile virus’s first U.S. appearance in 1999, Americans have listened to warnings about the mosquito-borne disease and its potentially deadly effects, a severe flu-like fever sometimes accompanied by an even more dangerous brain inflammation. Because the disease—and its attendant worries—recur every year, it’s easy to tune out West Nile coverage. But the Center for Disease Control has announced that this year’s outbreak is shaping up to be one of America’s worst, with the current count at 1,118 cases and 41 deaths. About half the reports come from a single state: Texas.
Knowing how bugs will spread through the population is critical to containing epidemics—and airports play a huge role in the global spread of disease. Although mathematical models have attempted to predict how individual airports influence contagion, the models often looked at the later stages of an epidemic, or assumed that travellers moved randomly. A new simulation from MIT predicts the spread of a disease in its first ten days, and takes into account the fact that each human is travelling to a specific desired destination rather than bouncing randomly from airport to airport. Using these assumptions, and information about individual airports, the new model ranks U.S. airports by their influence as disease spreaders.