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article imageFirst major study of coronavirus risk on aircraft flights

By Tim Sandle     Oct 9, 2020 in Science
What are the risks associated with flying when at least one person is carrying the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus? How vulnerable are other passengers? A new study assesses the evidence.
A new piece of scientific research has provided the first detailed description of an outbreak of the coronavirus on an airplane. In the medical case documented, an symptomatic infected person appears to have infected a large number of passenger on a long-haul flight.
In examining risk factors relating to in-flight transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the researchers examined cases arising between passengers who were on a 10-hour commercial flight. In all, there were 217 passengers and crew on-board the flight.
The end result was that 16 people were found to have been infected with the coronavirus. Of these, 12 passengers had been seated in business class, which was the same area of the aircraft as the person identified as the symptomatic carrier. This showed an infection rate of 62 percent within the business class section of the aircraft. The data pattern revealed that seating proximity was the major factor in determining the likelihood of becoming infected.
What is interesting with the study is that it confirms some of the observations made in relation to train travel. This is where the biggest risk factor is the proximity of an uninfected person to the infected person, in terms of the higher probability of the uninfected person becoming infected. In other words, there is a strong correlation in terms of infection risk.
What makes this a study of interest is the fact that, to date, that few studies have been made into air travel and in terms of epidemiology, only tiny fractions of infections to date have been traced to airplane flights. This may suggest that, compared with other forms of travel, air travel stands at a far lower risk. Whether this remains the case will be apparent as further information is examined.
The researchers recommend that the data patterns are studied by aircraft operators to determine the number of air passengers traveling, how they are positioned on a flight, and the flight duration.
The findings are published in Emerging Infectious Diseases. The paper is titled: "Transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 During Long Flight."
More about coronavirus, Air travel, Flight, sarscov2
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