Can Covid-19 spread on flights? CDC says woman may have contracted infection after using toilet during travel
Stringent global regulations are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus on aircrafts, says the report
A woman may have contracted Covid-19 on a flight, probably after using the toilet shared by fellow passengers, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. The finding hints at the possibility of asymptomatic spread on an aircraft.
The 28-year-old woman was among 300 passengers who were on an evacuation flight from Italy to South Korea in March. Authorities took strict measures to control the infection during the evacuation process, South Korean researchers wrote in their report, adding that stringent global regulations are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus on an aircraft.
"On the flight from Milan, Italy, to South Korea, she wore an N95 mask, except when she used a toilet," they said. Other passengers seated nearby, including an asymptomatic patient, also shared the toilet. The woman took up steps to minimize exposure to the virus. She isolated herself for three weeks at her residence in Italy before boarding the flight. Post landing, passengers were quarantined and screened for Covid-19 on days 1 and 14.
The woman began showing symptoms on day eight and was tested positive on the last day of her mandatory quarantine. "Given that she did not go outside and had self-quarantined for 3 weeks alone at her home in Italy before the flight and did not use public transportation to get to the airport, it is highly likely that her infection was transmitted in the flight via indirect contact with an asymptomatic patient," said the experts.
Six people tested positive for Covid-19 on day 1 of the quarantine. They did not develop symptoms on day 14 and were labeled asymptomatic. The flight also carried 18 crew members and medical staff dispatched from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). None of them caught the virus.
Experts also studied another evacuation flight carrying 205 passengers from Milan to South Korea on April 3, 2020. The same infection control measures were followed. Three of the passengers who tested positive on quarantine day 1 were asymptomatic. On day 14, one person tested positive, leading researchers to suspect the role of asymptomatic spread within flights.
Data suggests that air ventilation systems on flights filter air, thereby reducing the spread of the virus. Airlines have said that the disease risk is low. Three control measures could help cut the risk of Covid-19. "First, masks should be worn during the flight. Second, because contact with contaminated surfaces increases the risk for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among passengers, hand hygiene is necessary to prevent infections," researchers wrote. "Third, physical distance should be maintained before boarding and after disembarking from the aircraft."
The industry has suffered a blow due to the pandemic. The four biggest US airlines lost a combined $10 billion between April and June, according to the Associated Press. To assure passengers of their safety, American Airlines will use a surface coating called SurfaceWise2, which is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"SurfaceWise2 creates an invisible barrier on surfaces, which physically breaks down and kills virus cells," Dr Charles Gerba, a leading infectious disease expert, said in a statement. "This helps protect passengers and crew members against the transmission of coronavirus via surfaces, particularly on high-touch areas such as seats, armrests, tray tables and overhead bin doors."