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Airplanes 傍icket to Infection?

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Enemy Within

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Could a pleasant and enjoyable flight be the cause of a serious infection? Can airplanes be transporters of diseases? As you settle down in your seat, is a deadly infection already lurking amidst the carpeted and cushioned interior of the plane?

Little did such thoughts enter our mind until the bird flu, SARS, hit our planet this millennium. In fact, air travel and communicable diseases have a hand in glove association; especially air borne infections.

A major cause attributed to the spread of infections within flights is the recycled cabin air. Till the 70痴, 100% fresh air was pumped into the cabin of airplanes every 3 minutes. But, anticipated increase in fuel costs during the late 70痴 prompted research into methods of cutting down on fuel consumption and thereby, the cost. It was found that circulating fresh air within the cabin of an aircraft used up more fuel; so, since the 80痴, its percentage was cut in half. The reduced fresh air coupled with re-circulated stale air creates an environment conducive for many a health problem ranging from headaches, dizziness and nausea to various infections.

A study by Boeing and Pall Cabin Filters Brochure in 1999 showed that a cough produces 100,000 particles that can be dispersed over 20 rows in the cabin!

When infected passengers cough, sneeze or talk, droplets are released. It is in these droplets that the bacteria or viruses nestle until they gain entry into another victim. The unsuspecting, otherwise healthy passenger inhales the circulating recycled air that contains some of these droplets. Thus, the infection spreads among vulnerable passengers.

According to the Boeing Flight Manual, recycled air within an aircraft usually consists of 50% fresh and 50% stale air. Under such conditions, airborne germs are free to float around and the notorious ones include-

  • Common Cold
  • Tuberculosis
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Chicken pox
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