Analysis: EcoHealth Alliance’s FLIRT Program Identifies Areas at Risk of Further Nipah Virus Spread

NEW YORK – June 4, 2018 – With at least 17 dead, the current outbreak of Nipah virus in India is a major cause for concern. As a nonprofit organization working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, EcoHealth Alliance is monitoring developments closely. Nipah is a zoonotic disease which spreads from fruit bats to humans, most often by consumption of date palm sap which has been contaminated with a bat’s urine or saliva.

From the outbreak’s point of origin in the Indian state of Kerala, the nearest airports are those in Calicut, Cochin, and Trivandrum in Kerala, as well as Coimbatore International Airport in neighboring Tamil Nadu and Mangalore Airport in Karnataka. All five offer international flights.

FLIRT analyzes flight data to track potential disease outbreak spread

Using established flight networks, FLIRT can predict where pathogens could spread via infected passengers

Using its FLIRT software developed by EcoHealth Alliance’s technology team, EcoHealth Alliance has conducted a thorough analysis of which cities and countries should be on alert for potential influx of Nipah-infected travelers.

The countries most closely connected with the Nipah outbreak’s point of origin are:

  1. India
  2. United Arab Emirates
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Oman
  5. Qatar
  6. Singapore
  7. Thailand
  8. Malaysia
  9. Bahrain
  10. Kuwait
  11. United Kingdom
  12. Sri Lanka
  13. Australia
  14. China
  15. Pakistan

The United States ranks 17th. As for the specific cities most closely linked via passenger flight networks to Kerala, they are:

  1. Mumbai, India
  2. Dubai, United Arad Emirates
  3. Delhi, India
  4. Bangaluru, India
  5. Chennai, India
  6. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
  7. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  8. Muscat, Oman
  9. Hyderabad, India
  10. Doha, Qatar

No U.S. cities rank within the top 20 destinations from Kerala. However, the American cities most closely connected via air travel to Kerala are:

  1. New York (JFK): 0.16% of US-bound passengers coming from the Region of Interest (ROI)
  2. Los Angeles (LAX): 0.09% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  3. Newark (EWR): 0.09% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  4. Chicago (ORD): 0.08% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  5. San Francisco (SFO): 0.07% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  6. Houston (IAH): 0.03% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  7. Washington, D.C. (IAD): 0.03% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  8. Seattle (SEA): 0.02% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  9. Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW): 0.02% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  10. Boston (BOS): 0.02% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  11. Honolulu-Oahu (HNL): 0.01% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  12. Orlando (MCO): 0.01% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  13. Atlanta (ATL): 0.01% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI
  14. Miami (MIA): 0.01% of US-bound passengers coming from ROI

"We’re monitoring this Nipah outbreak daily," EcoHealth Alliance President Dr. Peter Daszak said. "If the virus spreads to any of the nearby states, as some fear it already has, the odds of Nipah becoming an international problem grow substantially. Goa, in particular, is a very popular vacation destination for many in Europe and Russia."

Having studied Nipah virus–one of the World Health Organization’s R&D Blueprint priority pathogens of greatest pandemic threat–for 15 years, EcoHealth Alliance’s scientists are some of the foremost experts on the virus’ transmission, spread, and animal origins. No treatment or vaccine has been successfully developed and the mortality rate remains high in most previous Nipah outbreaks. However, Nipah can only be spread through the bodily fluid (urine, saliva, feces, vomit) of an infected person.

FLIRT is equipped to consider not only direct flights, but also multi-leg journeys.

"We developed FLIRT in 2016 as a means to predict potential spread of outbreaks," EcoHealth Alliance Director of Data Science Toph Allen said. "In an increasingly connected world, we believe it’s imperative we get in front of outbreaks before they’re given a chance to become full-blown pandemics."

About EcoHealth Alliance
Building on over 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental, and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, and West Nile virus have all originated in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions to determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance's rigorous, science-based approach working in more than 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance's strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building, and policy initiatives.
Press contact: Robert Kessler, (646) 868-4711 or kessler@ecohealthalliance.org

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