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Ruth Christofferson
"We should be told of the risks"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Airlines rapped over blood clot deaths
airline graphic
Worries over "travellers' thrombosis" are growing
Families of air travellers who died from deep vein thrombosis have demanded more action from airlines to tackle the condition.

During a lobby of MPs at Westminster on Wednesday, they also called for a public inquiry into so-called "economy-class syndrome" - blood clots which are believed to be caused by sitting in cramped seats on long-haul flights.

Deep vein thrombosis
5% of DVT cases linked with flights
Flights longer than five hours pose risk
People over 40 more at risk
Can happen up to three days after travel
Airlines have admitted there may be an "association" between air travel and DVT, but do not accept there is a direct cause.

Transport Minister Lord Macdonald has already met the airline industry to discuss passenger health.

Ruth Christofferson, from Newport in south Wales, told the meeting how her 28-year-old daughter Emma died from DVT minutes after arriving at Heathrow after a holiday flight from Australia.

"We truly believe that Emma and countless others have died needlessly," she said.

Mrs Christofferson accused the airline industry of being in "blatant denial" over the condition.

"It has been swept under the carpet by the very people who should have known something about it," she said.

Emma Christofferson
Emma Christofferson died after flight from Australia
John Smith, Labour MP for Vale of Glamorgan, said airlines should give passengers elasticated stockings, which would help improve blood flow in the calf and reduce the threat of a blood clot building up.

He has introduced a private members bill which would compel airlines to give more information about how to prevent DVT, such as exercising during the flight, and drinking water rather than alcoholic drinks.

But the bill is almost certain to fall because of lack of debating time even if an election is not called for 3 May.

"The best way to get something done is if the consumer demands to know what the risk is and demands information from the airline companies," said Mr Smith.

Long-haul risk

A study by the Ashford Hospital, near Heathrow airport, discovered 30 flight-related DVT deaths in three years, giving a death rate for long-haul flights of one in a million.

But Dr John Belstead, a specialist at Ashford said the figure could be misleading because symptoms could occur up to three days after travel and victims would be treated elsewhere.

"One in a million doesn't sound a lot but it's a lot for the people concerned," he told the meeting.

"These were people who were entirely fit and well before they got on the aeroplane."

Barrister Gerard Forlin warned the families that a public inquiry would take several years during which time many more passengers would die.


It has been swept under the carpet by the very people who should have known something about it

Ruth Christofferson
He said that a simple change in the law relating to companies' responsibilities for assessing risk to staff and customers could help.

The 1999 Risk Assessment Regulation applied only to aircraft on the ground, not in flight.

Altering this, said Mr Forlin, would force airlines to make clear the risk of DVT to all passengers.

No link

Speaking before the meeting, Tim Goodyear of the International Air Transport Association, said: "Every individual case is tragic in itself.

"But what we think at the moment, on the available evidence, is that there's no confirmed link between DVT and air travel in itself, aside from a risk from prolonged periods of immobility."

Deep vein thrombosis happens when small blood clots form in the blood vessels of the lower legs.

While this can be painful in itself, the condition becomes more dangerous in some cases, where a tiny part of the clot breaks away and travels around the bloodstream before lodging in the lung or brain.

The result can be fatal or disabling strokes.

Wednesday's meeting also heard calls for training for doctors in diagnosing DVT.

Fireman Mark Dowsett described how he was twice turned away from hospital after suffering DVT three times in three years.

His condition has caused him to be put on light duties rather than front line firefighting.

He said travel agents should put warnings on tickets about the condition.

Despite the tag "economy-class syndrome" passengers can be at risk after sitting still in any airline seat for more than six hours.

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Health
Airlines admit blood clot risk
30 Jan 01 | Health
Simple test for clot danger
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