One of the nightmare scenarios for modern society is the possibility of a global flu pandemic like the 1918 Spanish influenza which infected about a quarter of the global population and killed as many as 130 million of them.
An important question for policy makers is how best to limit the spread of such a disease if a new outbreak were to occur. (The Spanish flu was caused by the H1N1 flu virus that was also responsible for the 2009 swine flu outbreak.)
One obvious idea is to close international airports to prevent, or at least dramatically reduce, the movement of potentially infected individuals between countries. But is this the best approach?
Today, Jose Marcelino and Marcus Kaiser at Newcastle University in the UK, provide an answer. They say a better approach is to cut specific flights between airports because it can achieve the same reduction in the spread of the disease with far less drastic action.
These guys used a standard disease-spreading model to simulate the spread of an H1N1-type infection across a network consisting of the world's top 500 airports and the flights between them. The disease started in Mexico City.
They then reran the simulation to see how different strategies could reduce the spread. They found that shutting entire airports can obviously reduce infection.