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SARS and airplanes, is it safe to fly?

Dear Anita,

I've seen the news reports about SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) on planes and the health risks passengers face while flying. Don't airlines filter the air in the planes, does that help stop viruses like SARS?

Louise McClatchey
Tampa, Florida
 

Dear Louise,

SARS and travel is certainly a hot news topic these days. SARS is getting so much attention because it is new, and doctors are scrambling for ways to prevent and treat it. Experts around the world, particularly in Asia, are researching to see if SARS is more of a problem risk with air travel. Currently, the only consensus appears to be that more research is needed.

There has been some panic among airlines and air travelers as any sick passenger is considered suspect, which has led incidents of grounding of planes and passengers. To date, no scientific studies have shown a conclusive link between cabin air and the spread of colds, flu viruses or other illnesses. Some airlines use high-grade air filters, which remove bacteria and fungi from the air, but filters won't solve the problem completely. While the filters can remove germs from re-circulated air and even some of the smaller viruses that float invisibly in planes, they won't help the passenger who sits next to someone sneezing and coughing with a bad cold or the flu.

SARS may have infected more than 2,500 people world-wide and killed over a hundred; however, it's worth noting the flu kills an average of 36,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. So, go ahead and fly, but don't fly sick, and try to keep your distance from those who are.

I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!

Anita Dunham-Potter

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