Airplanes –Ticket to Infection?
Infections in the Air
Risk of tuberculosis - Kenyon T.A. et al (1996) proved that tuberculosis could be transmitted to passengers through the air conditioning. A study on ‘the transmission of infections diseases during commercial air travel’ reported in March 2005 in ‘The Lancet’, adds further proof to this finding. Researchers found that healthy passengers sitting within two rows of a contagious passenger for a flight, longer than eight hours, were at risk of contacting the disease.
SARS Infection - An outbreak of SARS on board a flight from Hong Kong to Beijing showed that passengers seated as far back as seven rows from the infected individual were affected.
Stomach disorders: Food served on board the airplane must meet standards of hygiene; otherwise, passengers can carry home an upset stomach! Alternately, a passenger who has gastroenteritis can easily spread it to neighbors in the plane, by a mere touch! This virus can also be transmitted through the aircraft’s air conditioning.
An investigation of gastrointestinal illness among airline passengers in 1997 revealed that many passengers aboard two short flights from U.K. to Europe were infected by gastroenteritis. The reasons quoted were - either contact with an affected individual or the airplanes’ air conditioning.
Skin infections - Transmission of ectoparasites like head louse and other skin parasites can occur from aircraft seats, especially if the previous occupant was infested and the aircraft is not subsequently cleaned.
Person to person contact with a passenger who has contact dermatitis or conjunctivitis can expose a co-passenger to these contagions.
Malaria - Vector borne diseases like Malaria can travel from one country into another through mosquitoes that find their way into the aircrafts The risk is higher when a flight from an affected country like India flies to another country that is free of the disease.Malaria infected mosquitoes, if present within the flight can also bite a passenger and cause the disease.
In 1994, a high school student from India went on a visit to a remote province in Malaysia. Within a few days, he was hospitalized with very high fever and rigors. The doctors in the hospital did not then know that the boy was suffering from malaria; they were dumbfounded when he did not respond to their treatment. Apparently, there had never been a case of malaria in their province! Luckily, for the young high school student, a vigilant nursing assistant aired the doubt that the cause maybe malaria as the boy had come in from India. She saved the boy’s life!
Pet/Animal transmitted diseases - Sometimes pets transported by an aircraft may carry a sickness. For instance, birds maybe carriers of the deadly H5N1 or bird-flu virus.
Service animals that are allowed to fly in the cabin along with their handler may be disease carriers. This is the reason why most airlines make it imperative that a qualified veterinarian clears a pet before it boards a flight.
Occasionally, rodents like rats or mice or other smaller animals may accidentally get into the cargo hold of airplanes. They may also be potential disease carriers.
Respiratory or allergic problems: It is not uncommon for passengers to be allergic or have respiratory problems due to sprays used inside an airplane. Many airlines spray insecticides within the cabin to kill mosquitoes and other bugs. Visitors to Australia are sprayed with pesticides-this, however, can cause health problems for asthmatics or passengers with skin sensitivity to chemicals.