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BioDiaspora predicts Hajj and Umrah as two key possible spread points for MERS coronavirus

BioDLogo_whiteBioDiaspora, a start-up company based on the research of company founder, Dr. Kamran Khan of St. Michael’s Hospital, has identified two mass gatherings in the Islamic world as key possible spread points for the life-threatening MERS coronavirus, which emerged in the Middle East in early 2012.

BioDiaspora’s disease-tracking platform, which correlates uses global air traffic patterns to predict the international spread of infectious disease (as described in the original media release from St. Michael’s Hospital):

The first is umrah, a pilgrimage that can be performed at any time of year but is considered particularly auspicious during the month of Ramadan, which this year began on July 9 and ends on Aug. 7. The second is the hajj, a five-day pilgrimage required of all physically and financially able Muslims at least once in their life. It takes place Oct. 13 to 18 this year and is expected to draw more than 3 million people.

Predicted spread of MERS virus based on hajj travel pattters. Source: Potential for the International Spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Association with Mass Gatherings in Saudi Arabia/PLOS Currents Outbreaks.
Predicted spread of MERS coronavirus based on hajj travel patterns. Source: Potential for the International Spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in Association with Mass Gatherings in Saudi Arabia/PLOS Currents Outbreaks.

It also identified the Mumbai-India corridor as particularly vulnerable to MERS based on the predicted exit traffic of travelers leaving the hajj and returning to their home countries following the mass religious event.

Khan’s research findings, published in PLOS Currents: Outbreaks, have attracted media coverage from the Times of India, CanIndia, Toronto Star‘s Foreign Desk blog (Jennifer Yang), Science, and Homeland Security News Wire.

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BioDiaspora among technologies redefining digital disease mapping

BioDLogo_whiteDr. Kamran Khan, founder of BioDiapsora, was cited in a New York Times‘ Bits article on the Big Data solutions evolving to track the global spread of disease: “In New Tools to Combat Epidemics, the Key is Context.”

Amy O’Leary‘s article appeared as part of a special blog/supplement on June 19, 2013 (Big Data 2013).

Here’s an excerpt (links and emphasis ours):

One of the doctors in the field who can benefit from these types of insights is Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease specialist and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Dr. Khan, who said he had a “bad habit of being around emerging diseases,” has worked on the front lines of the 1999 West Nile virus outbreak and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. But the event that hit closest to home was when his own hospital was affected by a deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which hit Toronto in 2003.

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BioDiaspora Founder Kamran Khan interviewed in Maclean’s Magazine

Bio.Diaspora LogoIndia’s Kumbh Mela, an annual mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith, is unlikely to create a disease outbreak that spreads beyond the country’s borders, Dr. Kamran Khan, founder of BioDiaspora, tells Maclean’s Magazines Hannah Hoag in “As millions gather for Kumbh Mela, doctors are watching” (February 11, 2013).

Here’s an excerpt (emphasis ours):

Unlike the hajj or the Olympics, the Kumbh Mela is primarily a domestic event. While flights into Saudi Arabia spike to five times normal during the hajj, “with the Kumbh Mela, it’s marginal,” says Khan, “probably five to 10 per cent at some airports.”

To help stem disease outbreaks that do cross borders, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto, Khan developed Bio.Diaspora, an online tool that shows how international travellers can spread infectious diseases. Khan is also working with another group of scientists—along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—to develop a tool called BioMosaic that maps census data, migration patterns and health status to identify countries where international travel may give rise to emerging disease.

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