If you’re looking to get from A to B and do so with a minimum of dying along the way, you’ll want to do so via air. Travelling by plane is still the fastest, safest way option, so much so that there really is no competition. Vehicle travel is just silly if you have the option to instead make the journey up in the clouds, with the traffic, pollution and suicidal other drivers far below.
On the other hand, did you know that the interior of an aeroplane is a perfect environment for spreading germs around? Given that a plane interior is sealed and that passengers are packed in like sardines (unless of course you are in Business Class), the potential of germs doing a bit of crowd surfing is through the roof.
Sickness Spreading Statistics Revealed
Now, we don’t want to put you off of the idea of flying, perish the thought. But we do think there is some very interesting information in a report recently published by PNAS, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
It seems that some very detailed research was done on sicknesses being transmitted in air travel, and the results were a little alarming to say the least. One statistic to start off with is this one; if you are sitting within two seats, or one row, of a person who is carrying any sort of respiratory illness, such as cold or flu, your chances or contracting the ailment are up about 80% over those sitting further away. In other words, if you catch sight of someone sneezing, best you keep a tissue over your mouth for the rest of the flight.
Just how Serious Are We Talking?
First we should probably mention that the author of the study, Vicki Stover Hertzberg, is a professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing Emory University. She was quick to declare that although the results of her study were alarming, that she was not in any way less likely to avoid taking a flight in the future. A reassuring thought, but now let’s take a look at another unnerving statistic.
A study conducted in 1996 found that a woman travelling from Honolulu to Baltimore, and back again, passed on tuberculosis to a minimum of six other passengers on her travels. The result of the study triggered health officials around the world to worry about other illnesses, such as SARS or Ebola being spread in the same way.
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Details Of The Study
With all the alarming statistics now front and centre, it’s time to take a closer look at the study conducted by Hertzberg, and get a better idea if we should all be panicking and swearing off air travel for life. The study involved following the movements and health 1,540 over a number of flights, with the average length of each flight being around 238 minutes.
Watch was kept on passengers or crewmembers that seemed to show signs of sickness, such as coughing or sneezing. Close attention was also paid to the movement of passengers, with results showing that roughly 38% of all passengers never left their seats at all, and an equal amount left their seats just one time, mostly to use the aeroplane bathroom. This was of particular interest, because it seemed to indicate that the bathroom was a key location for any illnesses to be spread.
The study showed no spreading of illnesses at all, at least on the flights the team watched. Likewise, a total of 229 samples were collected across the interiors of the plane, which were tested for 8 common viruses. None of the samples showed any of these viruses.
Hertzberg concluded that there had been no risk of infections being spread during her studies, but cautioned that it was certainly not impossible. Her advice was that air travel was still the safest option, unless one passenger or crewmember was severely sick. In which case they probably wouldn’t fly.