Coming to an Airport Near You

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Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1330-1331
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247830

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Faced with the complexity of the global spread of new infections, a common approach has been to create enormous computer simulations (1, 2). Most of these studies have yielded only tenuous insights, and scientific understanding has been slow to accrue. On page 1337 of this issue, Brockmann and Helbing (3) identify a useful metric—the effective distance—that helps to understand the spread of contagion across a travel network. Once this measure is specified, the global spread of infection can be understood as a simple reaction-diffusion process across the defined transportation network.