Where Will the Next Epidemic Arrive Into the US?

We’re overdue for a flu epidemic. Whether it will be bird flu or swine flu or some as yet unmutated variant, each winter season sees us rolling the dice.

The Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919 is something that could re-occur at any time, and if (when!) the next flu or other epidemic sweeps over the US, its effects will be much more severe than was the case 94 years ago.

Sure, we have better health care now, but we also have less health care resource and less ‘surge’ capacity for sudden peaks of demand, and less inventories of medications.  We have fewer hospital beds per 1,000 population, fewer doctors, fewer nurses.

We have written before about other elements of bio-risk and epidemics.

We now wish to add two new points to that earlier article.

The first is that back in 1918, the spread of that flu epidemic was gradual rather than overwhelming.  The country had some time to adapt to the threat and prepare for the problems associated with it.  But today, with air travel as the dominant form of travel, and with a much more mobile population, and also with a much more concentrated population (more of the country lives in a handful of big cities, much less of the country lives in rural areas), it seems likely that a new epidemic will spread like wildfire through the country.

This rapid spread will be even more stressful on our limited healthcare facilities – whereas back in 1918-1919 the epidemic was spread over two seasons, a new epidemic can be expected to rush across the entire country in only a few weeks.

The second point is to direct you to a mildly interesting study from MIT that shows the top ten airports through which diseases are likely to arrive and spread.  New York’s JFK comes top of the list, followed by LAX, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago, Washington/Dulles, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas/Fort Worth.

The study looked not just at the number of passengers passing through the airport (if that was the sole criteria, Atlanta would come top of the list) but also at where people were traveling to and from, and their location in terms of impacts on the area and country as a whole.

It is relevant to note that the study does not simply say that if you live close to JFK or LAX you’ll be among the first to be infected, whereas if you live in Bozeman or Boise, you’ll be among the last.  It merely points to these airports as the major distribution points.  For sure, with the possible exception of Honolulu (its inclusion is probably due to the large number of flights from around the Pacific rim that come into HNL) most airports provide both a mix of connecting flights and terminating flights – it is common to see half the people flying into a gateway airport simply changing planes and flying on somewhere else.

Nonetheless, that still means that around about half the people get off their planes and live somewhere in the general area of these airports, which (again with the notable exception of Honolulu) are also the nation’s largest cities.

So it is fair to say that probably the major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, DC, and so on will be the first to be impacted by any new epidemics.  Which provides another reason to keep well clear of such cities, but you almost surely already accept that the bigger the city, the less appropriate it is as a place for a prudent prepper to live.

But lesser cities, even in the American Redoubt, will quickly be affected too.  However, most preppers don’t plan to live in the central downtown of any city, but rather some distance out, and if you need to, you should be able to instantly stop any daily interaction with other folks and hunker down until an epidemic has passed by, with no way for the infection to reach you.

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