WHO, medical experts, airlines meet to review deadly blood clots

Tuesday, March 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GENEVA (AP) _ Medical experts, representatives of 16 international airlines and the World Health Organization met Tuesday to examine the link between long-haul flights and deadly blood clots.

``This is a very significant meeting,'' said Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the United Nations health agency. ``It marks the first time that international airlines have come together with the WHO to examine this problem which has recently been escalating.

``We've come into this with an open mind. There have been a lot of things said about deep vein thrombosis and we need to see what research is actually saying,'' he said. ``We need to review the research done and see what gaps need filling and what, how, and when it needs to be done on an international scale.''

Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a condition in which a small blood clot forms mainly in the deep veins of the legs. It becomes potentially deadly when a part of the clot breaks off and blocks a blood vessel in the lungs, which is known as thromboembolism.

Experts in DVT say airline passengers may be at particular risk because they sit still for long periods.

Inaccurately nicknamed ``economy class syndrome'' because it was believed the cramped conditions in coach class caused the blood clots, deep vein thrombosis has also occurred in business and first classes passengers, as well as in people who sit for extended periods in buses, cars and at desks.

Experts are still unsure how long people have to stay still to be in danger, though they know high risk factors include age, obesity, smoking, pregnancy, cancer, recent surgery, hormone therapy or a history of the disease.

Last October a 28-year-old British woman died from a deep-vein thrombosis shortly after flying home from Australia. Three members of the British Olympic team suffered blood clots when flying to Australia for the Sydney Olympics last summer.

Recent deaths linked to DVT have sparked class action suits against major international airlines, with plaintiffs accusing carriers of allegedly failing to warn passengers about the dangers of developing potentially fatal blood clots during long-haul flights.

An Australian law firm has prepared compensation claims against six airlines for about 1,000 people who claim to have suffered deep vein thrombosis while on flights.

Following the release of reports that 18 people died in Australia from blood clots related to long-haul flights, the country's two biggest airlines, Qantas and Ansett, are planning to start printing cigarette-style warnings on tickets.

Thailand has offered free treatment to travelers afflicted by deep vein thrombosis on flights in and out of the country if they participate in a government study.

There are several reasons such blood clots appear to be on the rise, said Hartl.

``It could be that there is just more awareness of it,'' he said. ``Also there are more and more people traveling.''

Some experts say another reason is that more people at high risk are flying because improved health care allows them to lead more normal lives.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) were both present at the meeting, sponsored by the World Health Organization, as well as representatives from Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Iberia, Japan Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swissair, United Airlines, Varig and Virgin Atlantic Airways.