Friday, February 20, 2009

February 20, 2009, 9:04 am
More Passengers With Issues + Longer Flights = More In-Flight Medical Problems
Posted by Matt Phillips

Medical events in the cabins of commercial carriers are increasing in frequency as more people with medical conditions travel, the British medical journal the Lancet reports.

An article by Danielle Silverman and Mark Gendreau in the journal’s current issue — the article reviews the literature on air travel and illness — says flights are associated with a number of health issues including venous thromboembolism, or blood clots in veins, cosmic-radiation exposure, jet lag, and cabin-air quality. Also, according to the article summary: “In-flight medical events are increasingly frequent because a growing number of individuals with pre-existing medical conditions travel by air.”

The BBC took a closer look at the article. Here are some of the more interesting items the venerable British news agency spotlighted: Several outbreaks of “serious infections such as influenza, measles, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and tuberculosis have been reported on commercial flights. However, risk of on-board transmission, the researchers noted, is mainly restricted to within two rows of the passenger carrying the infection.” Keep that in mind next time you find yourself sharing a seat with someone with a nonstop cough. (The BBC also quoted Dr. Ray Johnston, head of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority’s Aviation Health Unit who said that while there has been a rise in recent years in the number of on-board medical emergencies “aviation still has an excellent safety record.”)

On a more serious note, the research clearly shows a link between air travel and venous thromboembolism (VTE), dangerous blood clots:

Some 75% of air-travel cases of VTE have been linked to lack of movement while on board - although economy passengers are no more likely to develop clots than their counterparts in business, the review found.

Risk was at its highest in flights of eight hours or more, but one study found the risk started to climb at four hours, the Lahey Clinic Medical Center team, led by Dr. Mark Gendreau, found.
The best ways to avoid clots include changing position regularly, walking through the cabin and performing calf exercises. (How much can you calf press?) Also, stay hydrated. No excuses. That means planning ahead if
your carrier charges for water.

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