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What is the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the cabin of an aircraft?

A team of US scientists recently assessed the risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in passengers in the cabin of an aircraft. The findings suggest that the risk of aerial virus infection is minimal during long flights. Research is currently medRxiv * Preprint server.


Since its advent in December 2019, SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has already infected more than 92.68 million people and killed more than 1.98 million people worldwide. I’m robbing. To curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, some control measures have been implemented to some extent by government agencies in most countries, including blockades of regions or countries, restrictions on movement or movement, and physical distance. As a result, many countries are facing a serious socio-economic crisis. In the latter part of the pandemic, control measures were relaxed to support the economy and overcome the crisis.

After travel restrictions were lifted, airline services resumed in many countries, raising questions about the risk of viral infections while traveling. Since SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted in the air, the risk of infection is expected to be higher in closed or poorly ventilated areas. Therefore, passengers or airline staff who have been in the cabin of an aircraft for extended periods of time are considered to be at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Current research design

In this study, scientists sought to quantify the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection in passengers traveling via two large aircraft (Boeing 767 and 777). They used fluorescent and DNA-tagged microspheres to analyze the dispersion and deposition of aerosol particles released from simulated SARS-CoV-2 infected passengers. Specifically, they measured the level of aerosol in the breathing zone of fellow passengers sitting in the same row as the simulated infected passengers or side by side in front of and behind the source. They performed these measurements at various locations within the aircraft, as well as placed simulated infected passengers at multiple locations.

Important findings

Boeing 777

Scientists have observed that maximal exposure occurs in the seat next to a simulated infected passenger by measuring the penetration of particles into the respiratory zone. Sheets placed in front of the source have lower exposure levels, while sheets placed behind the source have higher exposure levels.

Further analysis observed that the pollutant mixture in the row occurred rapidly and the pollutant flow was directed to the rear of the aircraft where the outflow valve was located. You can see that the exposure level is lower in the first class section, where the gap between the seats is wider, than in the economy section.

Boeing 767

According to the survey results, the exposure risk of Boeing 767 is lower than that of Boeing 777. However, both aircraft share similar characteristics of risk exposure. The Boeing 767 has less pollutant flow to the rear of the aircraft. The flow of contaminants released from the backseat is directed to the rear, but forward flow is observed for contaminants released from the front center seat.

By performing similar experiments with a simulated source of infection, with or without a mask, an approximately 15% reduction in particle count was observed in experiments performed with a mask.

Importance of research

Research results suggest that rapid mixing, dilution, and removal may limit the risk of exposure to aerosols containing SARS-CoV-2 in aircraft. Lower levels of aerosols have been observed at the rear of the aircraft, indicating a lower risk of exposure. However, it is important to consider that the findings are based on a simulation of a single source of infection. Therefore, in situations where there are multiple infected passengers, the dynamics of infection can be different. In addition, this study focuses on aerosols and small particulate matter of 1-3 µm. Propagation dynamics of large respiratory droplets are not included in the study.

*Important Notices

medRxiv Publish preliminary scientific reports that should not be considered definitive as they are not peer-reviewed, guide clinical practice / health-related behaviors, and should not be treated as established information.

What is the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the cabin of an aircraft?

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