A study conducted by the Frankfurt University Hospital examined whether the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus could be transmitted on the plane. For this purpose, passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt were tested and questioned.
Course of the study
The flight with a Boeing 737-900 took place at the beginning of March this year, at a time when there were still no protective measures such as masking requirements in airplanes. Some of the 102 passengers belonged to a travel group who had risk contact with a SARS-CoV-2-positive hotel manager before the flight. The 24 members of the tour group were tested on their arrival in Frankfurt after the four and a half hour flight. Seven of them were SARS-CoV-2-positive, i.e. infected during the flight. Two other travelers who did not belong to the group were found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 at a later time. The scientists involved in the study consider it very likely that both people on the plane were infected with the virus, especially since they said they had no risk contacts either before or after the flight, the writes University Hospital Frankfurt in a press release.
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How reliable are the results of the study?
“It cannot be 100 percent ruled out that other passengers were infected unnoticed. In addition, we cannot say with absolute certainty that the two transmissions took place during the flight under investigation. In principle, infection would also be conceivable, for example at the airport at the gate or on other occasions. However, based on the information available to us, we come to the conclusion that a transmission during the flight is very likely, ”says Dr. Sebastian Hoehl, first author of the study and doctor at the Institute for Medical Virology at the Frankfurt University Hospital. Especially since the infection numbers in both Germany and Israel were still very low at the time of the flight and neither of the two people reported SARS-CoV-2 cases in their environment. In addition, both passengers were sitting on the plane near the participants of the travel group who were already infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Is it possible to get infected on the plane?
The scientists involved in the study therefore come to the conclusion that infection is basically possible in the aircraft, especially if no mouth and nose protection is worn. According to Prof. Sandra Ciesek, Director of the Institute for Medical Virology at the University Hospital Frankfurt, “the number of transmissions is lower than we would have assumed for seven initial patients. This suggests that the air filter systems in the aircraft can reduce the transmission of the virus – but not completely prevent it. In view of these results, additional protective measures in the aircraft – such as wearing mouth and nose protection – appear to be very useful ”.