When the next big epidemic of infectious disease strikes the United States, it will travel most quickly from airports in New York and Los Angeles, a new study suggests. But the third most "influential spreader" among U.S. airports may come as a bit of a surprise: It's Honolulu International Airport, say researchers from MIT.

The researchers used a model that looks at traffic numbers and connections among airports but also the movements of individual travelers as they go from airport to airport — and linger for layovers. A video shows how those connections might spread a new flu virus or the next SARS in the early days of an outbreak starting at any of the airport locations.

Honolulu made the top three because its sends people out over great distances, east and west, and because it connects with "massive hubs," the scientists write in the journal PLosOne.

But Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport only came in 8th: That's because it often sends passengers to small regional airports — so they aren't as likely to spread any viruses they pick up to the rest of the world.

The good news is that the study found that "only a handful of airports are very good spreaders." The airports at the top of the list:
1. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), New York
2. Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
3. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
4. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
5. O'Hare International Airport (ORD), Chicago
7. Dulles International Airport (IAD), Washington, D.C.

While the findings might make some fliers nervous, that's not the point, the researchers say. They hope the information will help public health and security officials plan for outbreaks and even for potential biological terror attacks.

As reported by USAToday.