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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Risk of SARS Low During Air Travel

Improved Screening Reduces Risk of SARS while Traveling

WebMD Health News

May 19, 2003 -- Despite initial fears of SARS transmission on crowded airplanes, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the risk of getting SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) during air travel is now very low. New research shows that improved passenger screening and isolation of SARS cases has greatly reduced the likelihood of becoming infected with SARS on an airplane.

The WHO says that as of May 12, there were 35 flights in which a probable SARS case with symptoms, such as high fever and cough, was among the passengers and crew of the plane. To date, probable SARS cases from four of those flights have been associated with possible infection from an affected fellow passenger or crew member.

Officials say the most recent case in which SARS may have been transmitted during air travel was on a March 23 flight from Bangkok to Beijing. In that case, a symptomatic SARS case may have transmitted the disease to the passenger in the next seat.

Officials say screening measures in place at airports located in regions affected by the SARS epidemic exceed WHO recommendations. In these areas, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, the WHO says local authorities are also promptly detecting and isolating suspected SARS cases as well as rigorously tracing contacts of these cases and enforcing home confinement or quarantine of all contacts.

The results of the first global consultation on SARS held over the weekend in Geneva also endorse current travel restrictions. International health officials supported WHO recommendations that people with acute respiratory illness that might be SARS should not travel.

Research presented at the meeting also showed there have been no reports that people without SARS symptoms, such as fever, cough, or other respiratory difficulties, have transmitted SARS to others. SARS is believed to be transmitted primarily through close contact with infected droplets released by the cough or sneeze of an infected person.

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