Research, however, shows that planes are pretty safe, with high-quality air filters designed to catch 99.999 percent of airborne organisms. Cabin air is replaced about 20 times an hour – far better than in many homes or offices.
The problem with air travel and disease, it turns out, is airports. A study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering has found that the constant flow of passengers throughout airport has an unfortunate side effect. It causes pathogens to be “deposited, picked up again, and ferried elsewhere at an incredible rate, without the procedures that keep aircraft interiors clean”, the Atlantic magazine reports.
Some hubs are more conducive to spreading illness than others. The MIT study looked at US airport and created a ranking of the top 40 US airports in order of their ability to spread a disease that started there. Leading the list are: New York JFK International, Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Francisco, Newark, Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles International Airport.
Honolulu might seem isolated in the middle of the Pacific but all sorts of traffic from a very wide area heads through it, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
The MIT study aimed to find which airports would spread disease most rapidly during the first 15 days of an outbreak.
To illustrate their findings, the scientists arranged a gripping visualisation. To view it, click here.
It describes JFK and LAX as “global super-spreaders”.
The news comes as Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has issued a warning about a new outbreak of the much-feared Ebola virus in Uganda.
Terrified patients fled a hospital in western Uganda when news broke that the mysterious illness that killed at least 14 people in the region was Ebola, one of the world’s most virulent diseases. With no vaccine and no cure, the Ebola virus causes hemorrhagic fever, an acute disease characterised by high fever and bleeding into the skin.
Written by : Peter Needham