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A team of scientists led by Dr. Michael M. Satterfield, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Colorado Boulder, have found that while the vast majority of airline passengers who have come in contact with the Ebola virus in the United States have been treated, there may have also been some passengers who had not yet been exposed.
The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed data from more than 7,000 airline passengers in the U.S. who have flown from the country since March 8.
It found that 4 percent had been tested for the virus while on their flight, and another 6 percent had tested positive for it while in the cabin of a plane, but that only 2.7 percent had also had contact with a passenger while in transit.
The remaining 5.4 percent had not tested positive and remained free of Ebola, the researchers found.
The researchers did not examine how long the travelers had been traveling and what kind of flights they were on.
However, Dr. Saterfield, who is also the chief medical officer of the National Institutes of Health, said he was interested in seeing how long a person has been traveling, since the virus is usually passed on from one person to another over the course of the year.
The virus can also be passed from one carrier to another in a person’s blood, and people can be infected for up to three years.
Dr. Sauerfson noted that the new study did not look at the Ebola transmission rate among people who had traveled on commercial flights, and the researchers do not know how many people have contracted Ebola.
Dr. Margo Berenson, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC has been working closely with airlines to ensure they have procedures in place to protect their employees and passengers.
“This is the first report to show that there may be an elevated risk of Ebola transmission on commercial aircraft, but it does not prove that Ebola transmission is occurring on the aircraft itself,” Dr. Berensson said.
“But the CDC continues to encourage airlines to be proactive in protecting their employees, passengers and passengers.”
The CDC has recommended that airlines limit the number of people traveling to the United Kingdom and Spain, where the current outbreak has been spreading.