Should air travel be restricted during flu season?

A detailed analysis of influenza patterns indicates that the sharp dip in air travel after September 11, 2001 slowed the spread of the flu and delayed the onset of the 2001-2002 U.S. flu season.

I almost always develop flu-like symptoms following air travel. Researchers at the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program show I’m not alone.
“For the first time we’ve been able to show, using real data, that air travel spreads the flu, suggesting that reducing the number of air passengers might ameliorate a flu pandemic,” said Dr. John Brownstein.

  • During the first five flu seasons (starting in 1996-97), deaths due to the flu peaked around February 17.
  • In the flu season after September 11, 2001, the peak was delayed until March 2nd — nearly two weeks later than average.
  • In subsequent years, the peaks moved back toward February 17 as airline activity resumed its pre-9/11 levels.

In addition…

  • In the 2001-2002 flu season, it took 53 days for the flu to spread across the U.S. — 60% longer than the average time of 33 days.

By contrast, in France, where flight restrictions were not imposed, there was no delay in flu activity during the 2001-2002 flu season.

It’s ironic. Security concerns limit what passengers can take on a plane. It’s possible that at certain times even passengers won’t be able to get on the plane without a note from their doctor.

9/12/06 12:22 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.