Jet planes and blood clots

A large-scale research project into the assumed link between long-haul flights and deep-vein thrombosis has been announced. But the scare will no doubt continue - whatever the evidence says.

According to UK news headlines on 14 March 2001, airlines have admitted the link between deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and long-haul flights (1). What did they want to do that for?

Evidence supporting the panic about long-haul flights causing DVT is decidedly shaky (2). And the only new development, which has sparked these latest headlines, is that airline representatives and scientists have met at the World Health Organisation and agreed that research into the possible link should go ahead.

According to Dr John Scurr, consultant surgeon at University College London, this will be ‘huge project’, looking at ‘possibly hundreds of thousands of passengers’ before they get on planes and after they get off, to see who actually develops blood clots. Present evidence, claims John Scurr, only suggests the risk from air travel is small and mainly affects passengers already at risk from DVT (3).

A solid piece of research into the possibility of a link between long-haul flights and DVT is welcome. At least then, we will find out whether or not there is an association between flying and blood clots. But given that so many have already latched on to the belief that it does, and the panic has already galloped so far ahead of the evidence, you wonder who will listen to the science.

(1) ‘Airlines admit blood clot risk’, BBC News Online 13 March 2001; ‘Long-haul DVT link admitted by airlines, Daily Telegraph 14 March 2001

(2) See Are you the one in four? by Josie Appleton

(3) Financial Times, 13 March 2001

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