We know we live in a globalized world, which we all know means in one 48-hour period, a person can get from California to Hong Kong to London and back. What we don’t know is what this means for bioterrorism. If a bioterrorist were to release pneumonic plague in Delhi, how long would it take it spread to New York City? How many people would it infect along the way? How many fatalities would have to occur before we noticed? Nature looks at these questions, in metapopulation modelling detail, in its recent Scientific Report, Human mobility and the worldwide impact of intentional localized highly pathogenic virus release. They selected smallpox (which we think is kind of an obvious choice, to each their own) and developed a couple models of spread, with the most likely being bioterrorist “suicide bombers” – terrorists who infect themselves with the pathogen and then intermix with populations in large, metropolitan cities. The results are frightening.
Abstract: “The threat of bioterrorism and the possibility of accidental release have spawned a growth of interest in modeling the course of the release of a highly pathogenic agent. Studies focused on strategies to contain local outbreaks after their detection show that timely interventions with vaccination and contact tracing are able to halt transmission. However, such studies do not consider the effects of human mobility patterns. Using a large-scale structured metapopulation model to simulate the global spread of smallpox after an intentional release event, we show that index cases and potential outbreaks can occur in different continents even before the detection of the pathogen release. These results have two major implications: i) intentional release of a highly pathogenic agent within a country will have global effects; ii) the release event may trigger outbreaks in countries lacking the health infrastructure necessary for effective containment. The presented study provides data with potential uses in defining contingency plans at the National and International level.”
Read the full report here.