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RATIONALE FOR THE REVIEW: Air travel may be associated with viruses spread via infected passengers and potentially through in-flight transmission. Given the novelty of the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, transmission associated with air travel is based on transmission dynamics of other respiratory viruses. Our objective was to provide a rapid summary and evaluation of relevant data on SARS-CoV-2 transmission aboard aircraft, report policy implications and to highlight research gaps requiring urgent attention. METHODS: We searched four electronic databases (1 February 2020-27 January 2021) and included studies on SARS-CoV-2 transmission aboard aircraft. We assessed study quality based on five criteria and reported important findings. KEY FINDINGS: We included 18 studies on in-flight SARS-CoV-2 transmission (130 unique flights) and 2 studies on wastewater from aircraft. The quality of evidence from most published studies was low. Two wastewater studies reported PCR-positive samples with high cycle threshold values (33-39). Index case definition was heterogeneous across studies. The proportion of contacts traced ranged from 0.68 to 100%. Authors traced 2800/19 729 passengers, 140/180 crew members and 8/8 medical staff. Altogether, 273 index cases were reported, with 64 secondary cases. Three studies, each investigating one flight, reported no secondary cases. Secondary attack rate among studies following up >80% of passengers and crew (including data on 10 flights) varied between 0 and 8.2%. The studies reported on the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic and symptomatic individuals. Two studies performed viral cultures with 10 positive results. Genomic sequencing and phylogenetic analysis were performed in individuals from four flights. CONCLUSION: Current evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted during aircraft travel, but published data do not permit any conclusive assessment of likelihood and extent. The variation in design and methodology restricts the comparison of findings across studies. Standardized guidelines for conducting and reporting future studies of transmission on aircraft should be developed.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of travel medicine

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