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Asymptomatic Covid-19 patients can spread the virus on airplanes

Published Sep 4, 2020


CAPE TOWN - A recent study published in the CDC discovered that asymptomatic Covid-19 patients are able to transmit the Coronavirus to other passengers on an aeroplane

The study conducted by a team of researchers in Korea was led by Dr Sung Hwan Bae. It is based on an investigation conducted on an evacuation flight from Milan, Italy, to South Korea.

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The study enrolled 310 passengers boarding the flight with strict infection control measures with medical staff performing physical examinations, medical interviews and temperature checks before boarding the plane with 11 passengers identified with symptoms and removed from the flight.

All infection protocols were followed based on WHO guidelines with N95 respirators provided to all passengers that were kept 2 meters apart during preboarding. The study notes that most passengers wore their N95 respirators except at mealtimes and when using the toilet during the flight.

299 passengers arrived in South Korea after their 11-hour flight and were quarantined immediately for 2 weeks at a government facility where each passenger was isolated away from one another with medical staff examining them twice a day for symptoms and temperature and SARS-CoV-2 test on day 1 of quarantine and day 14.

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Test results revealed that 6 patients confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2 from day 1 and were transferred immediately to a hospital. After the full 14 days of quarantine, the same 6 passengers that had tested positive still had not developed any symptoms and were classified as asymptomatic.

On day 14 of quarantine, a 28-year old woman had then confirmed positive results from the Covid-19 test with researchers discovering that although she wore an N95 mask throughout the flight, she hadn't during the use of the toilet which was shared by passengers sitting nearby which included one of the asymptomatic patients.

The study mentions that the woman had self-quarantined for three weeks alone at her home in Italy before the flight and did not use any form of public transport where the authors of the study saying it is highly likely that her infection may have been caused via indirect contact of the virus from an asymptomatic patient on the flight.

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The remaining 292 passengers were released from the quarantine facility on day 15.

"Our findings suggest the following strategies for the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission on an aircraft. First, masks should be worn during the flight. Second, because contact with contaminated surfaces increases the risk for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among passengers, hand hygiene is necessary to prevent infections. Third, physical distance should be maintained before boarding and after disembarking from the aircraft," said in the study.

Although the authors of the study acknowledge the difficulty of airborne transmission on a flight due to highly efficient onboard ventilation systems may be, the researchers still believe their findings require urgent attention.

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"Our research provides evidence of asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 on an airplane. Further attention is warranted to reduce the transmission of Covid-19 on aircraft. Our results suggest that stringent global regulations for the prevention of Covid-19 transmission on aircraft can prevent public health emergencies," the study concluded.

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