Tackling the spread of pathogens in airports

Posted: 27 March 2017 | | No comments yet

Dr Ilpo Kulmala, a Principal Scientist at VTT, sets out how best to deal with pathogens in airports.


Air travel plays a significant role in the spread of infectious diseases. The continuous growth of global travel facilitates the quick and sometimes uncontrollable spread of naturally, or intentionally released, person-to-person transmissible pathogens around the world. Airports contribute to the potential spread of disease owing to the high number of passengers from across the world coming together in enclosed spaces, with high contact rates and several hand touch surfaces. Principal Scientist at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Ilpo Kulmala, provides an overview of the EU-funded PANDHUB project, which aims to minimise the transmission of infectious diseases in transport hubs.

Globalisation and the continuing growth of air travel will significantly influence the spread of infectious diseases. In 2015 there were around 3.4 billion passengers, of which 44% were international. Aviation transport is expected to increase in the future at a rate of approximately 5% annually, which means that the number of passengers will double within 15 years. At airports infected people can spread pathogens exposing other passengers, visitors, and airport staff to infectious microbes. Therefore, infectious disease transmission is a significant and growing concern during air travel and at airports. A literature review revealed that there are no reported cases of potentially pandemic diseases transmitted at airports. The paucity of published data that transmission occurs in transport hubs may in part be due to the rapid dispersal of travellers from such locations, hence an inability to identify the hub as the place where the transmission event occurred. Despite this, it is important that precautions are taken to protect the safety of passengers and staff within transport hubs, because these are crowded environments with transient occupants from different parts of the world who may have different susceptibilities.

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