"Avoid economy" to avoid swine flu, say researchers

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The Independent Travel

Scientists from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have found a way to predict the spread of the H1N1 virus on board a transatlantic flight -- and the news isn't good for economy travelers.

(Relaxnews) -

Scientists from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have found a way to predict the spread of the H1N1 virus on board a transatlantic flight - and the news isn't good for economy travelers.

Researchers from UCLA's Center for Biomedical Modeling believe that if an infected passenger travels economy, two to five people could potentially be infected on a five-hour flight. For long-haul flights, the model suggests five to 10 infections during an 11-hour flight, and seven to 17 during a 17-hour flight.

The scientists, led by UCLA Professor Sally Blower, used mathematical techniques to determine the number of passenger infections on one transatlantic flight, assuming there was one infected individual on board. The predictions were based on the number of exposed individuals, the respiratory rate of the infected person, the length of exposure to the infectious droplets and the concentration of infectious viral particles over time.

In an aircraft, the concentration of infectious particles is determined by cabin ventilation and size, as well as the sickness of the person. Economy passengers, as the most crowded, are the most at risk.

"We found that the number of infections that would occur on a flight was very dependent on which cabin the infected individual was sitting in," Blower said. "We found that many infections could occur if the infected individual was traveling in economy class but relatively few if the individual was traveling in first class."

The research, released January 6, has important implications for understanding and predicting the spread of H1N1, perhaps leading to more air travel restrictions to contain the virus. Air travel is thought to have significantly affected the spread of swine flu from its Mexican epicenter during the outbreak last spring. Since then, the World Health Organization says that swine flu has killed at least 12,799 people around the world.

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