Review Article: Influenza Transmission on Aircraft

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Air travel is associated with the spread of influenza through infected passengers and potentially through in-flight transmission. Contact tracing after exposure to influenza is not performed systematically. We performed a systematic literature review to evaluate the evidence for influenza transmission aboard aircraft.


Using PubMed and EMBASE databases, we identified and critically appraised identified records to assess the evidence of such transmission to passengers seated in close proximity to the index cases. We also developed a bias assessment tool to evaluate the quality of evidence provided in the retrieved studies.


We identified 14 peer-reviewed publications describing contact tracing of passengers after possible exposure to influenza virus aboard an aircraft. Contact tracing during the initial phase of the influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 pandemic was described in 11 publications. The studies describe the follow-up of 2,165 (51%) of 4,252 traceable passengers. Altogether, 163 secondary cases were identified resulting in an overall secondary attack rate among traced passengers of 7.5%. Of these secondary cases, 68 (42%) were seated within two rows of the index case.


We found an overall moderate quality of evidence for transmission of influenza virus aboard an aircraft. The major limiting factor was the comparability of the studies. A majority of secondary cases was identified at a greater distance than two rows from the index case. A standardized approach for initiating, conducting, and reporting contact tracing could help to increase the evidence base for better assessing influenza transmission aboard aircraft.

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