If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch Patient Zero on a beach vacation just before he brings about the start of a worldwide pandemic.
In a paper published on Monday in the scientific journal PLoS One, researchers from MIT developed a model that predicts how airports all across the U.S. would contribute to a pandemic in a Contagion-like scenario. The top two airports, LAX and JFK, not surprisingly, are “super spreaders” of disease, as they are among the largest hubs featuring the most connecting flights from around the world. But the Honolulu airport’s designation as a center of disease makes us pause slightly. The last thing we want to fret about is bringing an infection home with us post-Hawaii vacation.
(MORE: Travel Threats: America’s Most Dangerous Airports)
Several of the key factors that determined an airport’s potential for spreading diseases were based on their wide range of connections, volume of traffic and their strategic locations. Los Angeles and New York score high on all three accounts, and so does Honolulu, apparently – the tropical paradise is indeed a common stop for flights between Asia and North America.
Though logic would dictate that the main determining factor would be the sheer number of people, it’s not what you’d think: Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the busiest in the U.S. in terms of passengers, ranks only eighth out of 40 airports surveyed.
(MORE: Layover Stress Begone: ‘Relaxation Rooms’ Debuting at U.S. Airports)
According to The Guardian, the civil and environmental engineering team at MIT analyzed cellphone data and itineraries to figure out “real-world travel patterns, including layovers and re-routing” for an accurate feel of what exactly would if all of a sudden the big screen became a little bit too real.
Marta Gonzalez, one of the researchers, highlighted an important benefit of the study. “This can improve the measures for containing infection in specific geographic areas and aid public health officials in making decisions about the distribution of vaccinations or treatments in the earliest days of contagion,” she noted.
Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.