Coronavirus Transmission Confirmed While In-Flight

Pre-trip travel vaccinations are suggested by the CDC 

Although the international flight industry has judged the risk for in-flight transmission to be very low, long flights, in particular, have become a matter of increasing concern.

To assess the role of in-flight transmission of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus, a team of researchers investigated a cluster of cases among passengers on a 10-hour commercial flight.

They concluded in-flight, virus transmission probably originated from 1 symptomatic passenger during the long flight.

According to the researcher’s report published by the U.S. CDC on September 18, 2020, they traced 217 passengers and crew to their final destinations and interviewed, tested, and quarantined them.

Among the 16 persons in whom SARS-CoV-2 infection was detected, 12 (75%) were passengers seated in business class along with the only symptomatic person. This data represents an attack rate of 62 percent. 

Furthermore, this study found the passenger’s seating proximity was strongly associated with increased infection risk (risk ratio 7.3, 95% CI 1.2–46.2).

These researchers concluded saying ‘our findings call for tightened screening and infection prevention measures by public health authorities, regulators, and the airline industry, especially in countries where substantial transmission is ongoing.’

‘Making mask-wearing obligatory and making hand hygiene and cough etiquette standard practice while onboard and at airports seems an obvious and relatively simple measure.’

‘Blocking middle seats, currently recommended by the airline industry, may, in theory, prevent some in-flight transmission events but seems to be insufficient to prevent super spreading events.’

‘We conclude that the risk for on-board transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during long flights is real and has the potential to cause COVID-19 clusters of substantial size. This risk is present even in business class–like settings with spacious seating arrangements, well beyond the established distance used to define close contact on airplanes.’

‘As long as COVID-19 presents a global pandemic threat in the absence of a good point-of-care test, better on-board infection prevention measures and arrival screening procedures are needed to make flying safe,’ stated these researchers.

The CDC says ‘Travel Health Notices inform travelers and clinicians about current health issues that impact travelers’ health, like disease outbreaks, in destinations around the world.’

The CDC publishes an ongoing list of countries reporting health risks on this webpage.

Since the new coronavirus is not the only infectious disease transmitted when seated in closed environments, a list of pre-trip Travel Vaccines is published by Vax-Before-Travel.

Vax-Before-Travel publishes research-based international travel news.