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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"After years of denials, the industry accepts there is an association between air travel and blood clots"
 real 56k

The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"Patience with the airlines is growing thin"
 real 56k

The BBC's Claire Doole in Geneva
"The industry is facing the threat of class action suits brought by victims' families"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 17:45 GMT
Airlines admit blood clot risk
Air passengers
Cramped conditions are a concern
The airline industry has accepted that there is an association between long-haul air travel and fatal blood clots.

After years of denials, industry representatives have agreed that a major programme of research into the issue should take place.

The research will take about two years to complete, and will examine factors such as cramped seating cabin air pressure and excessive intake of alcohol.

It will also try to assess how far on-board exercises, wearing special stockings or taking blood-thinning agents like aspirin could help.

Michael Feldman
Michael Feldman says the airlines will take steps to ensure passenger safety
However, no government or airline has yet agreed to pay for it.

Michael Feldman, a spokesman for the airline industry, said: "What were are hoping is that we will get a definitive understanding about what the true cause is of deep vein thrombosis, and from that what steps the air transport can take to ensure that passengers travel safely and securely on board our aircraft."

Representatives from 16 major airlines met scientists at a two-day conference organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva to try to gauge the possible health risks involved in long-haul travel.

A number of high profile cases of passengers dying from deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) after travelling long distance has prompted fears of a link between the condition and air travel.

Leg veins

DVT is a condition in which a small blood clot forms, often in the deep veins of the legs.

DVT: At most risk
People who have already suffered a DVT
Elderly people
People who have recently undergone abdominal surgery
It becomes potentially deadly when a part of the clot breaks off and blocks a blood vessel in the lungs, which is known as thromboembolism.

Scientists believe there is a risk connected to flying because of the long hours a passenger remains immobile.

But airline officials have argued that is no scientific proof of any connection between DVT and long flights.

John Scurr
John Scurr says relatively few people are at risk
The airlines have previously insisted that blood clots could just as easily occur on long-haul bus or car trips.

But scientists fear air travellers could be more at risk because of the lack of opportunity to move about on a plane.

No-one knows how many people die of deep vein thrombosis a year but some scientists argue up to 10% of cases could be flight-related.

Dr John Scurr, a consultant vascular surgeon from London's Middlesex and University College Hospital who attended the WHO meeting, said: "I am convinced that there is a link between flying and the development of blood clots, but I think the problem is still quite small and that it is a relatively small number of passengers who are at risk."

Dr Scurr said those at risk were the elderly and those with serious illness.

There has been particular concern about DVT in the US, Australia and in Britain, where a 28-year-old women died last October after arriving from Sydney.

In all three countries, court action has been threatened against airlines for alleged negligence in failing to provide safe conditions for passengers.

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | UK
The seats of discontent
18 Nov 00 | Health
Study backs blood clot fears
10 Nov 00 | Health
More evidence of flying risk
23 Oct 00 | C-D
Deep vein thrombosis
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