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The Curse of Icarus: The Health Factor in Air Travel.

Aviation medicine has worked fairly well for pilots and crew. Theoretically, all employees who work aloft must be screened for their state of health to determine whether they are "fit to fly." The public is not afforded this elementary protection, says the author of The Curse of Icarus, whose title is an allusion to the ancient figure in Greek mythology whose wings were made of wax, and defiantly flew too close to the sun.

His major complaint is that the public does not realize how many significant changes take place in the airplane cabin once it soars into the skies. Within minutes, its passengers are transported to the heights of a minor peak in the Alps while the cabin is pressurized to the equivalent between 6,000 and 8,000 feet and the air circulating is not Alpine air, but seriously polluted despite health regulations.

Many individuals, the author warns, who are subject to various diseases should not be confined in an area beset by the multitude of negative factors present during high altitude travel.

Trace the steps that a passenger takes from the moment the airport is entered: the long walks to departure gates; the anxiety incurred in awaiting embarkation and in being confined to a waiting area always too small for the number of passengers; the lack of space afforded by seating, ideal only for a small woman weighing less than 100 pounds; and the sudden cabin pressurization equivalent to an altitude hundreds of times more than ground pressure.

"If there is a particular group that is susceptible to medical problems," Kahn writes, "it is the elderly and middle-aged, for they are prone to ischemic heart disease and cerebrovascular disease, both of which may be adversely affected by hypoxia (low oxygen levels). In all, it is apparent that the atmosphere of an aircraft cabin is detrimental to vital organs -- the heart, the lungs, and the brain -- of an unhealthy passenger."

The author cites reports and statistics that confirm the airline industry's awareness of flight-connected fatalaties among passengers. Beyond the scope of statistics are the numbers of victims who succumb after the journey.

Some of the suggestions that have been made by critics of the present system involve notifying the public that particular health problems should disqualify those individuals from flying. Asthma, chronic bronchitis, and anemia are among the ailments that can prove to be of concern.

Pregnant women, beyond 240 days, the author notes, may be vulnerable. The medical profession is aware that patients who have gastrointestinal disorder and eye, ear, nose, and throat conditions are subject to complications by air travel. Abdominal surgery, ulcers, or inflammation of the intestinal tract can contribute to serious distress.

Kahn enumerates the stress of air travel that can cause pulmonary embolism in passengers suffering from cardiac insufficiency or thrombic or venuous diseases. Many passengers wonder who they suffer from swollen feet and ankles during long flights. People with simple varicose vein problems, he advises, should wear support hose.

Also required, although economically not feasible, is the presence of a special medical compartment for stricken passengers. Air Afrique, for example, already has made special provisions for treatment areas on long hauls.

It is generally agreed among aviation medicine specialists that alcohol should not be served because of its potential dangers to both healthy and susceptible individuals. They also advocate the necessity of having paramedically trained attendants. Airline management has so far ignored these recommendations.

The prohibition of smoking during flight has made an enoous contribution to lessening cabin pollution, but poor air quality continues to be a problem caused by cosmic radiation and faulty air filters, Kahn argues.

The author has produced a book that, if taken seriously by large numbers of people, could cause a restlessness and impatience with current airline conditions. It could also reduce the hazards of airplane cabin "incarceration."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vegetus Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1991
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