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The BBC's science correspondent Tom Heap
"All of the 230 passengers in the study had flown for more than eight hours"
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The BBC's Sarah Montague speaks to
report author John Scurr and Roger Wiltshire, British Air Transport Assocation
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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
One in ten flyers at risk of DVT
Airline seats
Sitting still for long periods increases risk
Research has shown that one in 10 people travelling on long-haul flights could develop blood clots.

Scientists in London have revealed that 40 times more people suffered deep vein thrombosis (DVT) after long-haul flights than previously thought.

But many of these clots are "symptomless" and do not go on to develop into larger and potentially fatal clots.

Emma Christofferson, who died from DVT
Emma Christofferson: Died after 20-hour flight

The family of Emma Christoffersen, 28, from south Wales, who died after a long-haul flight, have called for a public inquiry into deaths from deep vein thrombosis.

Emma, from Newport, collapsed and died minutes after flying back from from Australia.

Her parents John and Ruth Christofferson, have joined MPs and medical experts in demanding an official government investigation into deaths caused by DVT - commonly known as "economy class syndrome".


Relatives of Thomas Lamb, 68, from Cardiff, are suing an airline over his death, which happened after a blood clot formed during a flight to Australia.

Policeman John Thomas, 30, from Cowbridge, outside Cardiff, died last summer after returning from his honeymoon in Florida.

The new research - published on Friday in the medical journal The Lancet - are bound to raise concern among passengers.

It has already provoked controversy with some scientists, who dispute the high number of cases found by consultant surgeon John Scurr and his team.

It can affect anybody if they have the right risk factors

Research team head John Scurr
Mr Scurr, who said the study was a preliminary one, told the BBC he recommended passengers on long flights should wear compression stockings.

"It's not an economy class problem, it's not related to the back of the aircraft, it can affect anybody if they have the right risk factors," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Immobility predisposes people who are probably already at risk for other reasons," he said, adding that very long bus or train journeys could present the same problem.

An international meeting of scientists, aviation experts and air authorities in March launched an investigation into the number of DVT deaths following long-haul flights.

Thomas Lamb, blood-clot victim
Thomas Lamb died after a long-haul flight

Relatives of 14 UK DVT victims have launched a multi-million pound law suit against the airlines concerned.

Wearing special compression stockings, given out by some airlines, has been found to reduce the risks.

Roger Wiltshire, Secretary General of the British Air Transport Association told Today "We accept there is a risk with immobility.

"That is why the airlines have done an awful lot in the past 12 months to improve the advice they give to passengers about exercise and sensible hydration in flight."


But he said it was not the responsibility of the airlines to provide compression stockings.

Mr Scurr, of the Middlesex and University Hospitals, London, said his team had used extremely sensitive ultrasonographic assessment which enabled them to pick up more cases.

His team studied over 200 passengers who had travelled on flights of eight hours or more.

Half were given the special stockings and showed no symptoms - 10% of the others did show clots in their calves.

Airlines' efforts

"What we are doing is picking up the small clots, some will just go away, but others like seeds will germinate and become bigger clots."

Mr Scurr said there was no-one who could not fly, even those who had previous problems.

He said following medical advice and using stockings should cut the risk of clots and that the airlines were working with scientists to cut risks.

Mr Scurr said: "The airlines have been working with us for some time now.

No risk for most'

"They are very familiar with these results and are giving passengers advice.

"For the majority of people, though, there is no risk."

In a commentary piece also in the Lancet, Dr Jack Hirsh from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, said more detailed and extensive studies were needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.

"What is needed are rigorously designed and adequately powered studies to resolve the issue.

"It would be premature to legislate that airlines change the seating configuration or introduce other costly procedures until there is more information on the extent of the problem and on the effectiveness of much simpler preventative measures."

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See also:

07 Feb 01 | Health
Stroke test 'could save lives'
13 Mar 01 | Health
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23 Jan 01 | Health
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