The National Academies

ACRP 02-20 [Final]

The Role of Air Travel in the Transmission and Spread of Insect-borne Diseases

  Project Data
Funds: $249,955
Research Agency: University of Florida
Principal Investigator: Liang Mao
Effective Date: 9/7/2010
Completion Date: 9/30/2014
Comments: Due to technical issues, the tool is no longer available; contact Joe Navarrete (jnavarrete@nas.edu) with questions.



Air travel has long been suspected to play a role in the transmission and spread of insect-borne diseases. Considerable resources have been devoted to addressing the phenomenon of “airport malaria” (isolated cases of malaria in the vicinity of an international airport in a region in which malaria is not typically present). The assumption is that airport malaria is transmitted when a mosquito is transported during an international flight from a malaria-endemic region and then bites a human after landing. This theory has given rise to the practice of “disinsection”--using chemical pesticides to rid arriving aircraft of insects prior to disembarkation--which currently is required as a condition of landing by 20 countries (though not by the United States). More commonly, malaria and other insect-borne diseases are imported by infected passengers. The existence of suitable habitat in non-endemic regions with competent insect vectors may lead to resurgence of not only malaria but also other devastating insect-borne diseases such as dengue and Chikungunya fever in non-tropical regions such as the U.S. The concern about the growing threat of insect-borne diseases, combined with the theory that air travel is allowing the importation (or reintroduction) of diseases in the U.S., has renewed interest in insect-control programs at airports and on aircraft. However, a more appropriate focus for controlling the introduction and spread of insect-borne disease would be the infected traveler. Research is needed to provide a better understanding of how the transmission and spread of insect-borne diseases are facilitated by air travel. Such research would provide a basis for airports, airlines, and public health officials to assess the appropriateness and efficacy of current mitigation practices.


The objective of this research is to develop a user-friendly GIS-based tool on a CD-ROM to help better define the roles of airports and airlines in the transmission and spread of insect-borne human diseases. The tool will show the interrelationships among the global distribution of insect-borne infectious diseases, locations of known outbreaks, and international air service routes to identify seasonal risks of insect-borne infectious disease transmission and spread by air travel, and to help identify potential mitigation strategies.


Research is complete.  Due to technical issues, the web-based tool is no longer available.  Contact Joe Navarrete (jnavarrete@nas.edu) with questions..

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