home .Featured, Coronavirus, Transportation #COVID19 Journal Club: “Transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 During Long Flight”

#COVID19 Journal Club: “Transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 During Long Flight”


I took a break from blogging to help start up the mass asymptomatic testing program for SARS-CoV-2 at UC Davis but now I’m working through the backlog of relevant papers to post about.

I’ve posted a lot so far about restaurants, hospitals, and wastewater sampling…. but to my knowledge this is the first published description of an outbreak on an airplane.  Basically one symptomatic infected person probably infected a number of other people on a long-haul flight… and proximity to the infected person was strongly correlated with infection risk.  I saw some Twitter buzz about this article when it came out and agree that while this is probably an important infection scenario to consider… only a very very tiny fractions of infections to date can be traced to airplane flights so this is still probably a much lower risk than many other scenarios (a loud bar with unmasked patrons for example).   Abstract below:

To assess the role of in-flight transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), we investigated a cluster of cases among passengers on a 10-hour commercial flight. Affected persons were passengers, crew, and their close contacts. We traced 217 passengers and crew to their final destinations and interviewed, tested, and quarantined them. Among the 16 persons in whom SARS-CoV-2 infection was detected, 12 (75%) were passengers seated in business class along with the only symptomatic person (attack rate 62%). Seating proximity was strongly associated with increased infection risk (risk ratio 7.3, 95% CI 1.2–46.2). We found no strong evidence supporting alternative transmission scenarios. In-flight transmission that probably originated from 1 symptomatic passenger caused a large cluster of cases during a long flight. Guidelines for preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection among air passengers should consider individual passengers’ risk for infection, the number of passengers traveling, and flight duration.


David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

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