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Study Finds Two-Seat 'Hot Zone' for Flu Spread on Planes
Date:6/15/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- During the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009, some people stopped flying out of fear of catching the virus while in the close quarters of an airplane cabin, but a new study shows that the "danger zone" for flu transmission is just a two-seat circumference around where you are sitting.

It had been thought that this hot zone was much larger, according to research published in the July issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists tracked illnesses among passengers on two long flights to Australia in May 2009, where several passengers were known to be infected with H1N1. Passengers were surveyed three months after arrival about any flu-like symptoms. Two percent of passengers had a flu-like illness during flight, and 5 percent (32) developed such an illness the week after they arrived at their destination.

Travelers were at a 3.6 percent increased risk for flu if they sat within two rows of a passenger with symptoms, and this risk jumped to 7.7 percent for those who sat within two seats of the sick passenger, the study showed. The two-seat danger zone refers to a sick passenger seated in the two seats in front of you, two seats behind you or two seats to either side of you.

Still, "it's not a given, but our 2x2x2 seats box is definitely the highest risk zone," said study author Dr. Paul M. Kelly, an associate professor at Australian National University in Canberra.

"Change seats if you find yourself within two seats of someone who is sneezing, coughing and looks like they have a fever," he said. "If you have a mask, wear it or suggest your neighbor wears it [and] wash your hands and avoid touching your own face to minimize the chances of spread via that route."

There are certain travel seasons that may be worse than others, he said. "Flu season is defi
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