A recent health scare on a Chicago airport tarmac last month has heighten awareness about a daily occurrence that typically goes by unnoticed and ignored: the spread of infectious disease by airline travelers.
Last month, a female passenger who had just returned from a visit to Africa had broken out in hives and the condition had gotten progressively worse since leaving the nation of Ghana. By the time the regional jet had arrived at Midway airport, the local airport fire department had surrounded the plane and the Centers for Disease Control had been notified of the possible contagion situation. The plane was placed in quarantine as a result, forcing everyone on board to remain until the passenger’s condition had been monitored by medical experts. There were unconfirmed reports that the affected passenger might have contracted Monkey Pox.
After being observed by the crew and photos of the skin rash reviewed by CDC officials, the crew and passengers were allowed to deplane. Passengers who experienced the quarantine reported high levels of stress, worry and anxiety about their personal health and safety, but were relieved that the passenger had been cleared and that the authorities had taken the situation serious enough to verify that every person involved were safe. It appeared that the passenger was reacting to exposure to bed bugs while in Africa.
This entire incident brings up a very interesting topic…one that is rarely discussed: contagion by airline traveler.
Watching movies like “Contagion” or “Outbreak” tend to add to the anxiety one feels when informed that exposure to a possible bacteria or virus. While there are strains of these diseases that are extremely dangerous and virulent, luckily they are rare and authorities are usually on top of these strains with advisories and advice to protect oneself from contamination.
Still, it gives one pause to be extra vigilant when it comes to one’s personal health, especially when traveling. There are resources available for any traveler to take advantage of, especially when traveling abroad.
The CDC has an excellent traveler’s advisory website for almost every country you might want to inquire about. This resource can be found at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.htm.
It’s also a good idea to schedule a visit to your personal physician to get needed or recommended vaccinations/boosters when traveling abroad, particularly to third world countries, where infection and disease control is minimal or non-existent. Be mindful that some of these vaccines have short shelf lives and many clinics and medical offices must special order them in advance and may not be readily available on demand. Check with your state’s health department for further information.
There are other things one can do to reduce your exposure on an airplane. The most important (and sadly one that is continuously omitted by airline passengers) is washing your hands, especially after using the lavatory facilities. I don’t recommend using hand sanitizer all the time, but having some with you while traveling has many benefits, especially when access to soap and water is not immediately available.
Another easily available resource is saline mist. This offers two things to airline travelers. First, airplane cabins are extremely dry as the air is processed and filtered in the ventilation systems. Using this product will keep your nasal passages moist and allow your body’s own natural defenses to work more efficiently. Second, saline solutions allow you to rinse your nasal passages from allergens and other nasty “bugs” that you may have inhaled. It may sound overly simple, but studies have shown that they are quite beneficial, even on a daily basis.
As a travel professional, I never recommend airline travel if you are under-the-weather. Airlines do reserve the right to determine whether travelers are “fit-to-fly” and if you are exhibiting signs of illness, they have the right to refuse you access to the cabin. This policy is not often executed, but be aware that it does exist. If you must travel and are ill, please do your fellow travelers a huge favor and take along a “surgical mask” – they are easy to obtain at most drug stores. This will help keep your illness contained and will help lessen others’ anxiety about germs spreading to them.
Before leaving on your next journey beyond the borders of the U.S., check out these other online resources for other information regarding current outbreaks, tracking of infections, and preventative measures:
- Flu Trackers: http://www.flutrackers.com/forum/
- AirCrewHealth.com: http://aircrewhealth.com/Topics/topics.htm
- MedicineNet.com: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=47044
- The Harvard Medical School: Family Health Guide: http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0604c.shtml
Safe (and healthy) travels!
The Savvy Passenger would love to answer your questions about airline travel, from the vantage point of an airline insider! Send your questions, queries and comments directly to TheSavvyPassenger@gmail.com
He’ll do his best to answer you in an upcoming column. All personal information is strictly private and will not be shared with the general public, unless requested. Feel free to comment on specific articles right here at the bottom of the page! Safe travels, everyone…