Grounded Epidemic: Reduced air travel after 9/11 slowed flu spread

2:50pm, September 13, 2006

In 2001, the winter-flu season developed more gradually than usual in the United States because of a reduction in air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a new study says. The finding indicates that in the future, restricting air travel might delay a domestic outbreak of a dangerous pandemic strain of influenza.

Although curtailing flights could slow a pandemic, it wouldn't single-handedly reduce the scale of death or illness, says study leader John S. Brownstein of Children's Hospital Boston. However, flight restrictions might buy a few extra weeks for officials to distribute flu-fighting drugs or a vaccine, he and other scientists say.

Brownstein and his colleagues analyzed the timing of flu-related deaths between 1996 and 2005. While no pandemic occurred during that period, a seasonal flu swept across the United States each winter. Those outbreaks together killed nearly 400,000 people.

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