HealthDay News — The probability of direct transmission of respiratory diseases is low for passengers on transcontinental U.S. flights not seated in close proximity to an infectious passenger, according to a study published online March 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Vicki Stover Hertzberg, PhD, from Emory University in Atlanta, and colleagues chronicled the behaviors and movements of individuals in the economy cabin on single-aisle aircraft on 10 transcontinental U.S. flights. Based on these data, transmission of respiratory viruses during flights was simulated. 

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The researchers found low probability of direct transmission to passengers not seated within 1 row or 2 seats of an infectious passenger. To measure the true pathogen burden, environmental samples were collected during the flights from the air and hard surfaces. Of the 229 samples tested, results of quantitative polymerase chain reaction assays for 18 common respiratory viruses were all negative, although eight of the flights were during influenza season.

“This data-driven, dynamic network transmission model of droplet-mediated respiratory disease is unique,” the authors write.

The authors received support from The Boeing Company; one author is an employee of Boeing.

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