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April 30th, 2009
05:15 PM ET

Flu and your health on a plane

Mark Gendreau
Special to CNN

The novel swine flu is showing the world just how interconnected we are and how commercial aircraft can serve as vehicles of rapid disease spread.

I am frequently asked: What is the risk of catching an illness while flying?

In a nutshell, the risk of getting an infection while you're in an enclosed space such as an airplane depends upon three factors: The infectiousness of the contagious person spreading the illness; the degree of your exposure (how close you are to the contagious person and for how long); and the ventilation of the space or passenger cabin.

We really have no control over the infectiousness of our fellow passengers, and usually, you really don't have much of a choice about your seating partners. So the exposure is pure chance.

But this doesn't mean that you are doomed. Most respiratory viral infectious diseases - like influenza and the common cold - transmit via droplets contaminated with the offending microorganism when the infectious person coughs or sneezes.

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Filed under: Airline Safety • Public Health
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Shellsey Sydney Australia

    I am concerned about the rapid spreading of the swine flu but there are also other major disease consistently being shared everyday through the airconditioning of planes and company buildings.

    For any company to clean their airconditioning units whether in planes or buildings is a very expensive process and some are impossible to clean depending upon their age of units.

    Simply airconditioning units are not regularly cleaned and this is a serious breach of OH & S everyday.

    I know that the world is a very tentative financial time but when it comes to health and people's lives isn't it worth doing something.

    The Australian government has just announced that our country has remained immuned from the swine flu infection todate.

    So far the Australian government has put into action an interesting attempt to address the further spread of swine flu from reaching our shores.

    Firstly, all passengers upon arrival from any destination are requested to walk through a temperature / thermal screening process.

    his is compulsary for every passengers.

    The airport staff are checking for any above normal temperatures.
    If found the passenger is simply removed and questioned.

    If necessary the airport staff are directed to take a saliva swab from the passenger/s.
    .
    It is criminal of some governments to not provide its citizens with accurate truth and details such as a threat of a pandemic infection.

    Unfortunately human beings do panic but this is an extreme situation and prompt action must be taken.

    We have some extremely intelligent, powerful and wealthy people around the world, why don't they gather their resources to help make positive and conclusive difference to mankind.

    April 30, 2009 at 9:24 pm |
  2. Ryan Walsh

    Okay, I know it may be a little off topic, but it still needs to be said. I'm sick of people getting after Biden for saying don't get on planes. I'm not an Obama fan, but Biden did the right thing for the health of the public by saying don't get on planes. Biden is a man.
    R.W.-age 15-Texas

    April 30, 2009 at 8:55 pm |
  3. Isabel

    Air quality in aircraft creates health risks and this was said well before the swine flu.

    The low humidity and cold temperature triggers the asthma attacks and rhinitis.

    The low temperature combined with low relative humidity decreases the immunity and facilitates local infections such as pharyngitis, tonsillitis, sinusitis, etc..

    April 30, 2009 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    From reading about where the flu is and how the patients got it, it sounds like that staying out of Mexico may be the biggest step towards not spreading the disease. Of course, the illegal immigrants from there could bring it with them so perhaps the time is right for a serious crackdown on the border.

    April 30, 2009 at 7:15 pm |
  5. Sandy

    Upon returning from Hawaii and a stop over to Calif. to switch planes I became ill returning home. So ill, vomiting, coughing and fever I went to the doctor. He was baffled for he said it was too late in the season to have the flu. He said if it gets worse call him. My fever the next day went up to 104 and my husband rushed me to the hospital. They too were baffled and filled me w/fluids and did the influenza test. It came back positive. I was sent home. I suffered for 3 weeks with a horrible chest cough that still won't go away. I am now on antibiotics, steroids and breath inhaler. Now my Dr. believes 99.99% that I had the swine flu. We believe I must have picked up at the airport/plane. Just for you info. I did stay home from work for 6 days. I am back home again with now a upper respiratory infection.

    April 30, 2009 at 6:45 pm |
  6. Jane Palomera

    I would personally like to see more on what swine flu means for frequent travelers. I'm a student who attends a New York college 5,000 miles away from home, and have been worried sick (pun intended) about my inevitable flight back home in a few weeks. I wonder what the end of the school semester will mean for the spread of swine flu as students, both American and international, fly home every which-way?

    April 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm |
  7. LEE

    VP Biden has just about shut down all public transit and air travel with his stupid comments on the Today Show......They need to remove his vocal cords!

    April 30, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  8. Heather,ca

    Ive never been real big on the idea of being on a plain,elevator or any place with sick people. If only the same attention that has been on the prevention of this flu, were taken as seriously for that of a cold etc. I always worry when I hear someone cough or sneeze. Theres a illusion of safety because if someone feels ok, they wont cover their mouth so it flies around in the cabin or people just dont think about it. It makes you wonder how often these cabins are actually cleaned.

    April 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  9. amber nasrulla

    So how do you protect yourself and a young baby on a plane?

    April 30, 2009 at 5:54 pm |
  10. Jim M

    How about flu and your health on a cruise ship?

    April 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm |