Newswise – As many of us get ready to take planes during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, during the season of colds and flu, we become concerned about the spread of infectious diseases in-flight. It’s an increasingly familiar experience to be healthy when you board a plane and start to develop disease symptoms a few hours later, when you deplane. The Lancet reports that increasing ventilation within aircraft cabins would reduce this problem?but will the airlines spend the money to do it?

Dr. Mark Gendreau looked at data from studies measuring the transmission of diseases during commercial air travel. He found that while commercial airlines are a perfect environment for spreading pathogens carried by passengers or crew, since they are a closed environment in which air re-circulates, the environmental control systems used in commercial aircraft seem to restrict the spread of airborne pathogens somewhat. One air exchange used on airplanes removes 63% of the airborne organisms suspended in that particular space. Computer models of data from an in-flight tuberculosis investigation reveal that doubling the ventilation rate in the cabin reduced infection risk by half.

Investigations of in-flight transmission of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases suggest that the risk of disease transmission to other symptom-free passengers within the aircraft cabin is associated with sitting within two rows of a contagious passenger for a flight time of more than 8 hours. Shorter flights are less risky. However, in one outbreak of SARS, passengers as far as seven rows away from the source passenger were infected.

Disinfecting the aircraft, and spraying before landing to kill insects, such as mosquitoes that carry disease, is also effective. However, passengers complain about being sprayed with insecticide and often this type of spraying is done to protect indigenous plants, not people, from insects that visitors may bring with them?on food, for instance. International Health regulations recommend using insect spray before passengers deplane on aircraft travelling from countries with malaria, although only a few countries currently do so (Australia, the Caribbean, India and Uruguay).

As we’ve written before, washing your hands often is one of the keys to avoiding transmitted diseases and Gendreau, who wrote an article in the British medical journal The Lancet about his research, agrees with this.

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