How flu viruses use transportation networks in the U.S.

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | June 19, 2015

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Emory biologists analyzed transportation data and flu cases from across the United States. The graphic of the U.S. interstate commuter network shows the number of people traveling daily between states for work. Credit: Brooke Bozick.

To predict how a seasonal influenza epidemic will spread across the United States, one should focus more on the mobility of people than on their geographic proximity, a new study suggests.

PLOS Pathogens published the analysis of transportation data and flu cases conducted by Emory University biologists. Their results mark the first time genetic patterns for the spread of flu have been detected at the scale of the continental United States.

“We found that the spread of a flu epidemic is somewhat predictable by looking at transportation data, especially ground commuter networks and H1N1,” says Brooke Bozick, who led the study as a graduate student in Emory’s Population Biology, Ecology and Evolution program. “Finding these kinds of patterns is the first step in being able to develop targeted surveillance and control strategies.”

The co-author of the study is Leslie Real, Emory professor of biology and Bozick’s PhD adviser.

One of the fundamental ideas in ecology is isolation by distance: The further apart things are geographically, the more distant they tend to be genetically.

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