Air travel has been a focal point for Ebola-related news, ever since the first case entered the United States last month with Thomas Eric Duncan, via Washington Dulles Airport. However, the Center for Disease Control has said that air travel poses low risk because it's not an airborne virus.
Video from ABC News
Even this morning, news outlets are sounding alarms because an infected nurse in Dallas was discovered to have flown with a fever from Cleveland to Dallas on Frontier Airlines. This nurse happened to be a staff member who treated Duncan, who died in Dallas on October 8th. She had flown from Dallas to Cleveland on October 10th, and then back to Dallas on Monday, then checked herself into the hospital that evening. In regard to the possibility of being exposed to Ebola while flying, the CDC has stated:
"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."
Therefore, anyone practicing proper hygiene techniques should be free from risk, whether on a plane or anywhere else.
The Center for Disease Control has provided guidelines for airlines in order to detect, manage, and report on sick travelers. The following points are among their guidelines:
- The U.S. Department of Transportation allows airlines to deny boarding to travelers with contagious diseases.
- Cabin crew should follow all routine infection control precautions, and treat all bodily fluids as infectious. Yes, flight attendants are trained on this stuff!
- 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.
What do flight attendants have to do if a passenger spills vomit or blood? The cleanup process is lengthy and tedious, but also clearly-defined. Aircraft are equipped with special clean-up kits for flight attendants for this type of incident. The kit includes waterproof gloves, a surgical mask, eye protection such as goggles or a face shield, a long-sleeved waterproof gown, and shoe covers. Once that's on, they have to clean up all affected surfaces. If it gets on a seat cover or carpet, those materials have to be removed and discarded as biohazard materials. Then they have to take extreme care while removing all of the protecting clothing, so as to not make contact with their skin, or re-contaminating other surfaces on the plane.
So the next time you're flying, remember that the people pouring your drinks are also there to save your ass in an emergency. On a daily basis, they put their own health and safety at risk in order to preserve yours.
Top photo and virus photo via Getty Images