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According to a study,Background Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is spreading rapidly around the world, mainly because people infected with SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-cov) fly to remote cities. Although many infected people travel by commercial aircraft, the risk of transmission in flight, if any, is unknown. Methods Passengers and crew members were interviewed at least 10 days after one of the three flights transporting one or more SARS patients. All index patients met WHO criteria for possible SARS cases, and in reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) or serological tests, index or secondary cases were confirmed to be SARS coronavirus positive. Results There were 119 people with symptoms in one flight. The laboratory confirmed that 16 people suffered from atypical pneumonia. The other 2 people were diagnosed with atypical pneumonia. Four people reported suffering from atypical pneumonia, but could not be interviewed. Among the 22 patients, the average time from flight to symptoms was 4 days (range 2 to 8 days). No SARS patients were exposed before and after flight. Passenger sickness was related to the physical proximity of the index patients. Eight of the 23 people sitting in the front three rows of the index patients were sick, while 10 of the 88 people sitting in other positions were sick (relative risk, 3.1; 95% confidence interval, 1.4 to 6.9). In contrast, another flight carrying four people with symptoms caused up to one person to infect another, while passengers on flights carrying pre-symptomatic atypical pneumonia patients had no medical records. Conclusion Atypical pneumonia may spread on the aircraft when the infected person flies in the symptomatic stage of the disease. It is necessary to take measures to reduce the risk of communication.

The new study is published in New England Journal of Medicine 2003,349(25)

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Transmission of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome on Aircraft