By Michael Morrah
Next time you get a nasty bug after an airline flight don't blame the plane's air conditioning. It's more likely a fellow passenger coughed on you.
That's the message from an Otago University study, which has been examining what happened when a group of school pupils flew home from Mexico with swine flu.
When planes touch down after long haul flights they carry weary and sometimes sick travelers – like the students from Auckland’s Rangitoto College who came back from Mexico with swine flu.
A new study has confirmed for the first time that there was an H1N1 outbreak on that flight and the virus was passed from the infected students to two other passengers.
“There were two cases who developed influenza a few hours after arriving back in New Zealand,” says Otago University associate professor Michael Baker.
“It fits perfectly with the incubation period of influenza. They couldn't have got it back in New Zealand. The only possibly source was onboard that flight.”
Mr Baker says fears that the flu was passed though air conditioning units is very unlikely.
“…those who got ill were seated within two seats of the infected people on the flight, and so that would be quite consistent with being near someone who's coughing or sneezing,” he says.
Just in case, Air New Zealand says it uses special filters which prevent almost all bugs being spread around planes.
The study also points out that the best way to stop the spread of viruses is to stop sick people boarding flights in the first place.
Dr Craig Thornley, of Auckland Regional Public Health, says a screening process could be necessary for serious health risks.
“If there is a serious pandemic like influenza that New Zealand is trying to keep out then we have to think very carefully about how we handle passengers on incoming flights,” he says.
Travel companies spoken to by 3 News say trying to stop sick people from getting on flights is unrealistic.
Passengers would need to produce a medical certificate as they can't declare themselves unfit to fly. So enforcing that rule and screening for it would be challenging.
source: newshub archive