Researchers plan to use the database, which does not connect itineraries with specific passenger names, to help determine where newly emerging infectious diseases are most likely to turn up.
In doing so, governments and public health authorities could work together to prevent the spread of disease and take steps such as determining where to marshal limited public health resources.
"We can't address all threats everywhere, but we can put all of our resources into locations where there is the greatest risk," Khan said.
Though the study shows how air travel contributes to the rapid spread of a disease, it's still unknown if travel information would help slow the spread of an emerging infectious disease, said Dr. Lisa Winston, an assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School.
Many diseases have already spread around the globe before epidemiologists and scientists learn of them, Winston said.
"It can be difficult to figure out where it started. Things can feel like they are popping up in different places," Winston said. "It's very difficult to control a disease that is very infectious."
For more on swine flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: Kamran Khan, M.D., infectious disease physician and scientist, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Canada; Lisa Winston, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine, division of infectious disease, University of California, San Francisco Medical School; June 29, 2009, New England Journal of Medicine, online
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