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By Jack Saporito


March 23, 2006

Even before it makes a jump to direct human-to-human transmission, fears of Avian Flu being acquired from poultry and catching it from other infected humans will impact the way American society operates.

One major area of impact is expected to be air transportation. The SARS experience has sensitized the public to the fact that movement via aircraft is indeed one of the most serious infection spreading factors. The virus can be brought quickly to the U.S. via wild migrating birds, birds both live and dead being shipped here, and humans bringing in the disease by "flying it in" on commercial or private aircraft.

An infected person on an aircraft could spread the disease by the direct route of departing the aircraft and contacting other humans. But if they are in a developed state of infection, the disease could as well be transferred to some or all of the other on-board passengers.

Currently little or limited planning is being done to ensure the public health is being protected. Existing plans depend upon aircraft crew to identify passengers that might be infected with H5N1 and reporting it to the appropriate CDC quarantine center.

This policy fails at all levels. Flight attendants cannot handle the responsibility of being placed in the unenviable position of determining if any of their passengers are (a) exhibiting signs of sickness, (b) assessing whether it's flu-like (c) reporting same before opening the departure doors. They are further asked to attempt to isolate identified individuals and ask them to don surgical masks to limit airborne spread. Of course, on-board panic might result.

HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan - What SARS taught us:

  • SARS-CoV can spread rapidly on a global scale through international travel if control measures are not implemented and can be halted through aggressive global measures to educate, detect cases early, effectively isolate cases, and identify, monitor, and quarantine contacts.
  • Patients with SARS can transmit infection to other passengers on conveyances and should postpone travel until they are no longer infectious.
  • SARS experience should have alerted the airlines to the possible impacts

A Better Proposal:

All passengers, with certain additional qualifications, boarding an international flight heading for the U.S., will have a saliva/nasal swab sample taken during the boarding process. All samples will be tested by a WHO (World Health Organization) certified agent, located within the boarding country, with results transferred to the U.S. before the aircraft is de-boarded at its U.S. destination airport. If AF (perhaps others e.g. anthrax, small pox, etc.) is reported, all on-board passengers and crew will be quarantined until it is determined that they are not infected, while the known infected person(s) are separately quarantined and treated until they are no longer infectious.

The aircraft interior will be scrupulously disinfected before new passengers are allowed to board. The aircraft's baggage and freight areas will also be disinfected before movement into human populated areas. On-board pets will be properly treated; they may also be quarantined to ensure no infection.

The requirement to swab test would be applied to any passenger departing from a country that has been determined to have human infection cases. Passengers that are departing from a non-infected country but whose residency is in such a country, or whose itinerary has placed them in an infected country within the last month would also be tested.

Airlines and government must realize the dramatic and potentially bankrupting impacts of a public that is both tremendously fearful of flying in an enclosed space with infected people or of allowing aircraft arrivals of passengers from infected countries. They will soon realize that "certified, non-infected passenger aircraft" will be a much better alternative to maintaining a healthy business than drastic reduction in international flight traffic.

CDC will distribute travel health alert notices to all arrivals:

  • Enhance disease surveillance at ports of entry.
  • Request information on the ill passenger's symptoms and travel and exposure histories.
  • Determine if a public health official and/or CDC quarantine officer should meet the airplane or cruise ship to further evaluate the ill traveler.
  • Provide the crew with guidance on infection control procedures.
  • Consider prohibiting all nonessential arrivals.
  • Actively monitor all arriving passengers for fever and respiratory symptoms.

Additional actions: provide a tool to governments around the world who are preparing to protect their citizens and employees from a potential epidemic. "Our cameras offer a discreet and effective way of identifying individuals with elevated body temperatures, helping to detect possible fever and thereby limiting the spread of infectious disease," commented Earl R. Lewis, President and CEO of FLIR Systems, Inc.

What other countries are doing:

The Toronto Star reported that Canadian officials are working with border security services to ensure passengers do not import the disease, which is continuing to spread across the European continent. Dr. Jim Clark of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told The Star. Travelers from a list of 20 countries that have been exposed to the virus face questions by Canadian authorities, including whether they have visited a farm in Europe have hunted or participated in birding, are importing feathers or other bird products. Clark said that sniffer dogs at Canadian airport luggage carousels will be looking for any feathers or bird products, as well as detecting bird droppings on the bottom of people's shoes or on their clothing.

Clearly this country is not prepared for a potential pandemic that could conceivably bring down the airline if they fail to heed the warning for taking measures now to insure the publics safety. Comprehensive preventative steps taken today will prevent a disaster tomorrow.

Jack Saporito
Rolling Meadows, IL - USA

About: Jack Saporito is the director of US-Citizens Aviation Watch group.

Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.


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