Airliners may be spreading disease

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The Independent Online
Airliners may be spreading disease

Jet liners could be unwitting plague carriers, spreading dangerous viruses around the world in their sewage tanks, a US scientist has warned. A survey of 40 samples of sewage pumped from international aircraft landing at two major American airports found 19 contained viruses that had survived exposure to disinfectant chemicals in the toilet tanks.

Researchers who conducted the study for the World Health Organisation and the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said "alien" viruses could be released into the environment in countries in which they did not occur. Aircraft sewage is normally treated in municipal sewage works but conventional treatment only eliminates 90 per cent of viruses.

Mark Sobsey, of the University of North Carolina, who led the study, said bacteria and parasites could be present as well. "We think there is a risk and we should pay more attention to the hazards of international travel." He said the viruses identified could cause stomach upsets, fever and myocarditis, an inflammation of the muscles of the heart. Jeremy Laurance