Airport infections: preventing the spread of pathogens on plane travel

Airport infections: preventing the spread of pathogens on plane travel

Plane travel is one of the ways that pathogens can spread over great distances within a matter of hours. The HyFly joint research project is aiming to establish the scientific foundation for preventing airport infections, and if possible, prevent pandemics.

The project is expected to deliver action plans which airport operators and airlines can implement to make plane travel less risky for passengers’ health by preventing airport infections.

Plane travel and the spread of pathogens

The risk of global epidemics is increasing, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Pathogens are easily spread on plane travel and new strategies against aiport infections are needed. The HyFly joint research project has received €2.6 million in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research InfectControl 2020 initiative.

The methods for identifying airport infections

One of the methods used by the researchers is a non-invasive method of identifying infected individuals based on components of their breath. Dr. Dirk Kulhmeier is the manager of the Working Group on MicroDiagnostics at Fraunhofer IZI and his team are developing a system to distinguish between bacterias based on components of the human breath called volatile organic compounds (VOC). Kuhlmeier said:“Molecular biological methods aren’t suitable here, as they are too time-consuming. Instead, we will rely on IMS, a non-invasive method that doesn’t require, for instance, any smears, or any blood or saliva samples. This method has proven successful in detecting drugs and explosive residues at airports around the globe for many years now…IMS is notable for the possibility it offers to quickly and sensitively detect volatile organic compounds directly in the air.”

The process works by using gas chromatography. First, the breath components are separated. Then they are transferred to a couple ion mobility spectrometer, where charged particles are produced. Kuhlmeier added: “Neutral VOC molecules are ionized by high energy…The charged molecules move toward the detector very quickly in the homogeneous electric field. A molecule can be characterised based on the drift time required before it strikes the electrode, and the bacterium can be identified based on a specific VOC composition.”

Kuhlmeier and his research team are currently optimising this non-invasive method and have scheduled pre-clinical studies for 2019.

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