Beyond the World news headlines
Tracking the flu with George Washington
“We’re looking at how people travel in the United States and Europe and trying to find a theory behind human traffic,” Brockmann said. “Then we can unravel the structures within these networks and explain them.”
Modern-day flu epidemics are fueled in part by the ubiquity of global air travel. Local commuting and mobility patterns can be equally important, but more difficult to analyze.
In 2006 Brockmann turned to WheresGeorge.com, a website that tracks dollar bills embossed with unique serial numbers, using money as a proxy for human travel. By calculating the odds that a given dollar bill will stay within a 10 kilometer radius, he created an epidemiological model that can be used to predict the course of the flu outbreak.
Brockmann explains his work on the current H1N1 outbreak in the following video
Below you can see Brockmann’s worst-case projection for spread of the H1N1 flu virus in the United States, on a county-by-county basis. The model predicts up to 1,700 cases of swine flu for the entire United States four weeks from now, though Brockmann notes on his website: “The actual case numbers are expected to be smaller as mitigation strategies and containment efforts become effective.”
[QUICKTIME http://rocs.northwestern.edu/projects/swine_flu/index_assets/WGc5MEX_20090430_stoch.mp4 480 320]
His site also has worst-case projections for New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, Dallas and Chicago.