Study suggests woman contracted COVID-19 in airplane toilet

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A study published by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says a woman may have contracted COVID-19 from a toilet in an aeroplane.

The woman, 28, was among 310 passengers on an evacuation flight from Milan, Italy, to Incheon, South Korea on March 10.

According to the study, before boarding, medical staff at the airport performed physical examinations, medical interviews, and body temperature checks on the passengers.

The researchers, from Soonchunhyang University College of Medicine, in Seoul, South Korea, said 11 passengers who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms were removed from the plane, while 299 asymptomatic passengers were permitted to board the 11-hour flight to South Korea.

The study noted that most passengers wore the N95 respirators except at mealtimes and when using the toilet during the flight.

The researchers said the woman used the N95 respirator during the flight except when she visited the toilet.

Upon arrival, the passengers were quarantined for two weeks at a government quarantine facility. Of the 299 passengers, six had confirmed positive result for COVID-19 on quarantine day 1.

“On quarantine day 14, a 28-year-old woman who had no underlying disease had a confirmed positive test result for COVID-19. On the flight from Milan, Italy, to South Korea, she wore an N95 mask, except when she used a toilet,” the report read.

“The toilet was shared by passengers sitting nearby, including an asymptomatic patient. She was seated 3 rows away from the asymptomatic patient.

“Given that she did not go outside and had self-quarantined for 3 weeks alone at her home in Italy before the flight and did not use public transportation to get to the airport, it is highly likely that her infection was transmitted in the flight via indirect contact with an asymptomatic patient.

“She reported coughing, rhinorrhea, and myalgia on quarantine day 8 and was transferred to a hospital on quarantine day 14.”

The report suggested that “stringent global regulations are necessary for the prevention of transmission of this virus on aircraft.”

“This study was one of the earliest to assess asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 on an aircraft. Previous studies of inflight transmission of other respiratory infectious diseases, such as influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome, revealed that sitting near a person with a respiratory infectious disease is a major risk factor for transmission similar to our own findings,” the researchers added.

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