What the CDC Wants Airline Crews To Know About Ebola (and you should know too)


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The Centers for Disease Control published “Interim Guidance about Ebola Infection for Airline Crews, Cleaning Personnel, and Cargo Personnel” on October 15, 2014. All of the information listed below is informational and “copied and pasted” from the linked website above. We here at PMM will NOT be offering any personal opinions or analysis.

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 10.44.58 PM

“In this handout from the Center for Disease Control, a colorized transmission electron micrograph of a Ebola virus virion is seen.”

CDC requests airline crews to ask sick travelers if they were in Guinea, Liberia, or Sierra Leone in the last 21 days.

  1. If YES, AND they have any of these Ebola symptoms—fever, severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, or unexplained bruising or bleeding—report immediately to CDC.
  2. If NO, follow routine procedures.

Purpose: To give information to airlines on stopping ill travelers from boarding, managing and reporting onboard sick travelers, protecting crew and passengers from infection, and cleaning the plane and disinfecting contaminated areas.

Key Points:

  • A U.S. Department of Transportation rule permits airlines to deny boarding to air travelers with serious contagious diseases that could spread during flight, including travelers with possible Ebola symptoms. This rule applies to all flights of U.S. airlines, and to direct flights (no change of planes) to or from the United States by foreign airlines.
  • Cabin crew should follow routine infection control precautions for onboard sick travelers. If in-flight cleaning is needed, cabin crew should follow routine airline procedures using personal protective equipment available in the Universal Precautions Kit. If a traveler is confirmed to have had infectious Ebola on a flight, CDC will conduct an investigation to assess risk and inform passengers and crew of possible exposure.
  • Hand hygiene and other routine infection control measures should be followed.
  • Treat all body fluids as though they are infectious.

Stopping ill travelers from boarding aircraft

A U.S. Department of Transportation rule permits airlines to deny boarding to air travelers with serious contagious diseases that could spread during flight, including travelers with possible Ebola symptoms. This rule applies to all flights of U.S. airlines, and to direct flights (no change of planes) to or from the United States by foreign airlines. (See Department of Transportation Title14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 382.)

Managing ill people on aircraft if Ebola is suspected

It is important to assess the risk of Ebola by getting more information. Ask sick travelers whether they were in a country with an Ebola outbreak. Look for or ask about Ebola symptoms: fever (gives a history of feeling feverish or having chills), severe headache, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea (several trips to the lavatory), stomach pain, or unexplained bleeding or bruising.

The risk of spreading Ebola to passengers or crew on an aircraft is low because Ebola spreads by direct contact with infected body fluids. Ebola does NOT spread through the air like flu.

Even if the person has been in a country with Ebola, cabin crew won’t know for certain what type of illness a sick traveler has. Therefore, cabin crew should follow routine infection control precautions for all travelers who become sick during flight, including managing travelers with respiratory illness to reduce the number of droplets released into the air. If in-flight cleaning is needed, cabin crew should follow routine airline procedures using personal protective equipment available in the Universal Precautions Kit.

See CDC’s Infection Control Guidelines for Cabin Crew Members on Commercial Aircraft for more information on practical measures cabin crew members can take to protect themselves, passengers, and others.

Follow these routine precautions

  • Keep the sick person separated from others as much as possible.
  • Wear waterproof disposable gloves before directly touching the sick person, blood, or other body fluids.
  • When providing direct care to a sick traveler who came from a country with an Ebola outbreak, also wear surgical mask (to protect from splashes or sprays), face shield or goggles, and protective apron or gown (see below: Universal Precaution Kit).
  • Do NOT give a surgical mask for someone who is nauseated or vomiting. Wearing a mask could harm a traveler who is vomiting. Give an air sickness bag if traveler is vomiting or reports feeling nauseated.
    • Give a plastic bag for disposing used tissues or soiled air sickness bag.
  • Give a surgical mask if a sick traveler is coughing or sneezing, if the sick person can tolerate wearing one. If a mask cannot be tolerated, provide tissues and ask the person to cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Reporting ill travelers

The pilot of an international flight bound for the United States is required by law to report any onboard deaths or ill travelers who have certain symptoms to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before arrival. This is consistent with mandatory reporting standards of ICAO (ICAO document 4444 and Annex 9, Ch. 8, of the Chicago Convention).

CDC staff can be consulted to assist in evaluating an ill traveler, provide recommendations, and answer questions about reporting requirements. Reporting to CDC does not replace usual company procedures for in-flight medical consultation or getting medical assistance.

When necessary, CDC routinely conducts contact investigations to alert passengers and crew of their exposure to ill travelers with certain diseases who were possibly contagious on their flight.

What to do if you think you have been exposed

If a traveler is confirmed to have had infectious Ebola on a flight, CDC will conduct an investigation to assess risk and inform passengers and crew of possible exposure. Any airline crew, cleaning, or cargo personnel who think they were exposed to Ebola either through travel, assisting an ill traveler, handling a contaminated object, or cleaning a contaminated aircraft should take the following precautions:

  • Notify your employer immediately.
  • Monitor your health for 21 days. Watch for symptoms of Ebola: fever (temperature of 100.4°F/38°C or higher), severe headaches, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, unexplained bleeding or bruising.

When to see a health care provider

  • If you develop symptoms after possible exposure to Ebola, get medical attention right away.
    • Before visiting a health care provider, alert the clinic or emergency room in advance about your possible exposure to Ebola so that arrangements can be made to prevent transmission to health care staff or other patients.
    • When traveling to get medical care, limit your contact with other people. This includes avoiding public transportation. Avoid all other travel until you have been medically evaluated.
  • If you are not in the United States, contact your employer for help with locating a health care provider. The U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you are located can also provide names and addresses of local physicians.

 

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