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Risk of measles transmission on aeroplanes: Australian experience 2007–2011

Experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome1 and pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza2 has clearly shown the potential for air travel to result in the spread of emerging respiratory diseases. Similarly, countries (like Australia) that have successfully interrupted local transmission of measles virus face repeated importation of measles by travellers who are infected overseas.3 Australian residents made a record eight million short-term trips overseas in the 2011–12 financial year.4 In addition, around 6 million visitors from overseas arrive in Australia each year,4 many from countries with endemic measles transmission.

There is little published information on the risk of transmission from infectious measles cases during aeroplane travel, or the effectiveness of contact tracing in this setting. Current Australian guidelines recommend direct follow-up of contacts of all people with measles who are considered to be infectious during a flight. Contacts are defined as people seated in the same row, two rows in front of and two rows behind an infectious person.5 There were no reports of measles transmission on aeroplanes…