New study reveals odds of catching coronavirus on airplane are relatively small

by Bryan Brammer · Aug 19th, 2020 4:33 pm

Last Updated Oct 14th, 2020 at 3:08 pm

The odds of catching coronavirus while traveling by airplane with infected passengers appears to be relatively small, according to a new study.

German researchers conducted a study on the health status of 102 passengers who boarded a flight in Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 9 destined for Frankfurt, Germany.

Several days before the 4.5 hour flight departed, seven members of a 24-person tour group unknowingly came in contact with a hotel manager who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Of the seven members of the group who tested positive for coronavirus, four were symptomatic, two pre-symptomatic, and one was asymptomatic. The study referred to the infected members as "index cases."

The researchers followed up with 71 of the other 78 passengers aboard the flight and discovered that two passengers who were seated within two rows of an infected passenger tested positive for the virus.

"We discovered two likely SARS-CoV-2 transmissions on this flight, with seven index cases. These transmissions may have also occurred before or after the flight," Dr. Sandra Ciesek, of the Institute for Medical Virology at Goethe University in Frankfurt, wrote in the report. "The risk of transmission of droplet mediated infections on an aircraft depends on proximity to an index case and on other factors, such as movement of passengers and crew, fomites, and contact among passengers in the departure gate."

The research team also noted that the plane's airflow system may have contributed to the low number of coronavirus cases.

"The airflow in the cabin from the ceiling to the floor and from the front to the rear may have been associated with a reduced transmission rate. It could be speculated that the rate may have been reduced further had the passengers worn masks," the report reads.

Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious diseases expert at Mount Sinai in New York, told Fox News that the report is consistent with other findings.

"Airplane trips, especially if they are of a longer duration, have the potential to transmit infection from an infected person to the people sitting in their immediate vicinity," Glatt said. "The good news, however, is that even with no attempts to prevent spread, spread was limited to only those in close proximity."


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