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Genetic Test For Frequent Fliers

In an earlier news story, we reported that researchers in Australia and the U.K. believe that many deaths from bloodclots caused by long airplane flights go unreported.

Now scientists think that genetic testing could prevent this from happening. Gillian Turner, a medical geneticist at the University of Newcastle in Australia, says people planning a long flight should consider being genetically tested for a mutation in their blood-clotting gene. "There is another component besides saying that it's all the airlines' fault for nottelling people to move their legs," she says.

This "Factor V. Leiden" genetic mutation, which increases the chances that blood clots will form, is very common, occurring in approximately one out of 20 people. Between 20 and 50 percent of those who get deep vein thrombosis following long flights carry this mutation. Testing for Factor V Leiden isn't expensive, and the results are available within a few days.

If you find out you have this gene, you could take precautions, such as drinking plenty of water or taking aspirin, which helps stop the clots from forming. You could allow extra time for layovers, so you could walk aroundthe airport between flights.

Harmful gene mutations such as this one are not usually so common. Researchers feel that by increasing blood clotting, this gene may have improved a woman's chances of surviving childbirth before the existence of modern medical techniques to stop hemorrhages. "There must have been a goodside to it, until people started to fly long distance," says Turner.

The question is: will frequent fliers take the trouble to have their genes tested before flying? It's bad enough that they want to search our purses and x-ray our luggage.

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