Respiratory infections during air travel


  • Funding: None

    Potential conflicts of interest: None

Correspondence to: Karin Leder, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Central and Eastern Clinical School, Alfred Hospital, Commercial Road, Prahran, Melbourne, Vic. 3004, Australia. Email:


An increasing number of individuals undertake air travel annually. Issues regarding cabin air quality and the potential risks of transmission of respiratory infections during flight have been investigated and debated previously, but, with the advent of severe acute respiratory syndrome and influenza outbreaks, these issues have recently taken on heightened importance. Anecdotally, many people complain of respiratory symptoms following air travel. However, studies of ventilation systems and patient outcomes indicate the spread of pathogens during flight occurs rarely. In the present review, aspects of the aircraft cabin environment that affect the likelihood of transmission of respiratory pathogens on airplanes are outlined briefly and evidence for the occurrence of outbreaks of respiratory illness among airline passengers are reviewed. (Intern Med J 2005; 35: 50–55)