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Incidence of clinical symptoms during long-duration orbital spaceflight

Authors Crucian B, Babiak-Vazquez A, Johnston S, Pierson DL, Ott CM, Sams C

Received 3 June 2016

Accepted for publication 10 September 2016

Published 3 November 2016 Volume 2016:9 Pages 383—391


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Scott Fraser

Brian Crucian,1 Adriana Babiak-Vazquez,2 Smith Johnston,1 Duane L Pierson,1 C Mark Ott,1 Clarence Sams1

1Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division, NASA-Johnson Space Center, 2Epidemiology/Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health, KBR-Wyle, Houston, TX, USA

Background: The environment of spaceflight may elevate an astronaut’s clinical risk for specific diseases. The purpose of this study was to derive, as accurately as currently possible, an assessment of in-flight clinical “incidence” data, based on observed clinical symptoms in astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS).
Methods: Electronic medical records were examined from 46 long-duration ISS crew members, each serving approximately a 6-month mission on board the ISS, constituting 20.57 total flight years. Incidence for immunological-related adverse health events or relevant clinical symptoms was tabulated in a non-identifiable fashion. Event categories included infectious diseases, allergies, and rashes/hypersensitivities. A subsequent re-evaluation of more notable events, either of prolonged duration or unresponsive to treatment, was performed.
Results: For the disease/symptom categories used in this evaluation, the ISS incidence rate was 3.40 events per flight year. Skin rashes were the most reported event (1.12/flight year) followed by upper respiratory symptoms (0.97/flight year) and various other (non-respiratory) infectious processes. During flight, 46% of crew members reported an event deemed “notable”. Among the notable events, 40% were classified as rashes/hypersensitivities. Characterization of on-orbit rashes manifested as redness with irritation, and could present on a variety of body locations.
Conclusion: Based on reported symptoms, astronauts experience adverse medical events of varying severity during long-duration spaceflights. The data suggests caution, from both a vehicle design and biomedical countermeasures perspective, as space agencies plan for prolonged deep space exploration missions.

Keywords: spaceflight, immunity, clinical incidence, astronauts, gravity, clinical risk, disease

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