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Sick On A Plane

A strange fact: Between 2000 and 2006, the number of medical emergencies on â��commercial flights nearly doubled… from 19 to 35 per 1 million passengers.â�� [USA Today]

Why? Are deranged flight attendants inducing heart attacks and strokes left and right? Are planes cesspools of disease? Are people more terrified of hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour?

No. Relax.

The study which noted the rise, conducted by MedAire, a medical company that specializes in consulting with airlines, says the rise is likely the result of two intersecting trends:

Trend #1: Baby Boomers are growing older, more prone to sickness, and continue to fly as much as when they were younger (a lot).

Trend #2: There are more flights that last longer and go farther, with the average length of a flight rising from 1,233 miles in 2000 to 1,347 in 2006.

And, trust us, being sick on a plane is terrible. The rising instances are the leading cause behind a proportionate rise in emergency landings to make sure sick folks get the speedy treatment they need.

The typical sicknesses? �Passengers with diabetes, seizure disorders and heart and respiratory ailments account for 23 percent of in-flight deaths and 29 percent of medically related flight diversions.�

Unfortunately, airlines are not required to report medical emergencies. MedAire�s survey is based on analysis and self-reporting, so the extent of the problem is not entirely known.

Last September, USA Today �sent a survey to every major airline�s chief executive officer � a total of 60 � asking them how often in-flight medical emergencies occur, how many passengers die and how the airlines train and equip crews to deal with such emergencies.�

The Airline industry resisted, claiming through their industry group that �Data are not kept in this format; records are not readily accessible; information is proprietary or protected by privacy policies; or time and resource constraints prevent us from preparing a meaningful response.�

Stonewalling aside, the airlines may actually be handling the problem well.

According Chris Chiames, the head of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association in Washington, D.C., and a former airline executive, says that planes are actually safer than many places on the ground: �Airlines have thousands of people trained in first aid and CPR. They have equipment nearby. They are actually a role model here.�

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