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In-Flight Infection Risk Nothing to Sneeze At

Better Cabin Circulation May Lower Risk of Infectious Diseases During Air Travel


Researchers say health regulations recommend disinfecting aircraft traveling from countries with malaria and other similar disease, but only five countries currently do so (Australia, India, Kiribati, and Uruguay).

The study also showed that the risk of disease transmission within the aircraft cabin seems to be affected by cabin ventilation. One study showed an air exchange removed up to 63% of airborne organisms in that space.

Researchers say use of HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters also clearly reduces the risk of transmitting disease. A survey showed that most airlines equip their large aircraft with HEPA filters, but it's not required.

Ticket to Infection?

"Many of us believe air travel is also a lottery ticket for an upper respiratory infection," write David Ozonoff and Lewis Pepper of the Boston University School of Public Health, in an editorial that accompanies the study. "An aeroplane cabin provides the smallest volume of available air per person of any public space."

But they say the study shows that researchers are only beginning to study air travel as a method of spreading infectious diseases.

Ozonoff and Pepper advise that regulations requiring the use of HEPA filters for any airplane that recirculates air should be seriously considered.

But until then, they say advice to air travelers remains generic: "good personal hygiene to protect yourself (wash hands frequently, particularly before eating), cover nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, and wash hands afterwards to protect others."

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