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Study: Flu Viruses Travel on US Roads and Railways

Mother Jones

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Viruses are hitching a ride with commuters on the nation’s roads and railways, adding to the chaotic movement that makes seasonal outbreaks difficult to track and contain.

In a study published Thursday in PLOS Pathogens, researchers at Emory University tracked genetic variations in two strains of influenza between 2003 and 2013. They concluded that states highly connected by ground transit tended to have similar genetic variations of the flu, and they matched their findings with illness case data that showed closely timed epidemic peaks in those states. The researchers believe ground transit connectivity may be a better indicator of where a disease is likely to spread than air travel connections or even geographic proximity, though they say both remain important factors.

The US Interstate Commuter Network shows the number of people traveling daily between states for work. Courtesy of Bozick, CC-BY

Modern transport networks complicate the movement of viruses: In the past, contagion moved person to person and village to village, resulting in “wave-like patterns” of genetic variation that correspond to geographic distance, the report says. But with 3.8 million people in the United States taking ground transportation across state borders each day and 1.6 million doing so by air, the spread of illness has become far more chaotic: Transcontinental flights help foster bicoastal outbreaks, while well-traveled commuter corridors between Kansas and Missouri may mean those states share illnesses as neighboring areas go unscathed.

Researchers found that “commuting communities,” divided into colored regions, tended to span state borders. Travelers carried influenza along with them. Courtesy of Bozick, CC-BY

The researchers hope their study, which they believe to be the first of its kind at the scale of the continental United States, will help epidemiologists better understand influenza’s seemingly unpredictable spread.

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Study: Flu Viruses Travel on US Roads and Railways

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Insurance companies on climate change: ‘What climate change?’

Insurance companies on climate change: ‘What climate change?’


Too many insurance companies aren’t connecting the dots.

Insurance companies have been paying out big bucks of late, funding cleanup in the wake of wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events likely made worse by global warming. Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $50 billion in economic losses, and it was just one of 11 American catastrophes in 2012 that wrought more than $1 billion worth of destruction.

So one would logically think that insurance companies would be among the most clued-in businesses when it comes to understanding and bracing for humanity’s horrendous effects on the weather.

Not so, according to the results of an industry-wide survey of 184 insurance companies that operate in California, New York, and Washington state.

From a report published by CERES [PDF], the nonprofit that administered the survey:

In general, almost all companies responding to the survey show significant weakness in their preparedness to address the effects climate change may have on their business. However, a small subset of industry leaders are evolving their business strategies to remain competitive as the impacts of climate change unfold. Given the strong scientific consensus on climate change, the rest of the industry would be well advised to follow the lead of these innovative companies.

Two of the biggest laggards in acknowledging climate reality: Allstate and Travelers, which “express strong ambivalence about the state of the science — specifically, the existence of climate change and what is causing it,” CERES says.

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


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Insurance companies on climate change: ‘What climate change?’

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