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How H1N1 Virus Spreads in an Airplane

Scientists have devised a mathematical model that can predict how H1N1 virus infections can spread in an airplane during a transatlantic flight. Depending on the length of the trip, one individual who has H1N1 could infect two to 17 people during an airplane trip.

One reason for the interest in how H1N1 spreads in an airplane is that air travel played a significant role in the spread of H1N1 from Mexico to other locations during the outbreak in spring 2009. This is the first study to investigate the importance of in-flight transmission of the virus.

Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, used the Wells-Riley equation, which is a standard for predicting the extent of outbreaks of infectious pathogens in buildings and other enclosed environments. The equation takes into consideration the number of people exposed, the respiratory rate of the person with the infection, the length of exposure to the infectious droplets, and the concentration of the virus particles over time.

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