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Euro Surveill. 2012 Aug 30;17(35). pii: 20255.

Evidence for airborne infectious disease transmission in public ground transport--a literature review.

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  • 1Robert Koch Institute, Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Surveillance Unit, Berlin, Germany.


While guidelines on contact tracing (CT) after exposure to certain infectious pathogens during air travel exist, no guidance documents are available on CT in response to potential exposure on public ground transport. We reviewed scientific and non-scientific literature on transmission of airborne pathogens in public ground transport and on factors potentially influencing transmission. We identified 32 relevant publications (15 scientific and 17 non-scientific). Most of the selected studies dealt with transmission of tuberculosis. However, the relation between travel duration, proximity to the index case and environmental factors, such as ventilation, on disease transmission in public ground transport is poorly understood. Considering the difficulty and probably limited effectiveness of CT in ground transport, our results suggest that only exceptional circumstances would justify CT. This contrasts with the high level of attention CT in air travel seems to receive in international regulations and recommendations. We question whether the indication for CT should be revisited after a risk–benefit assessment that takes into account exposure in both ground and air transport.

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