Preventing an outbreak at 40,000 feet


AUSTIN (KXAN) –  More than 71,000 people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. Earlier today, several infected Americans were brought home after being quarantined on a cruise ship for several days. While most cases are concentrated in China, airlines are staying vigilant. We wanted to know what happens if an infection of any kind is detected on a flight.

The Centers for Disease Control has a plan in place for flight crews to follow. First, flight crews must identify the sick traveler. There are three criteria they would use to do this:

  • Does the passenger have a fever and one of the follow symptoms: a skin rash, persistent cough, difficulty breathing, confusion, unexplained bruising, persistent diarrhea, persistent vomiting, headache with stiff neck, or appears obviously unwell?
  • Has the passenger had a fever for more than 48 hours?
  • Does the passenger have any symptoms related to a current outbreak?

Additionally, any travelers flying from China could be suspected of having coronavirus if they meet certain criteria.

  • Has the passenger had a fever for more than 48 hours?
  • Does patient have a fever and either a cough, trouble breathing or look unwell?

If a contagion is suspected, flight crews are to treat all body fluids as infectious. They must use personal protective equipment and limit contact with the infected traveler. They do this by assigning one crew member to the infected traveler and will attempt to separate the traveler from other passengers by at least six feet.

Additional steps are taken based on the symptoms. A facemask may be offered if the traveler is coughing. They may also get their own private bathroom assigned to them if they have gastro-intestinal issues. Crew members will also call the airport they’re travelling to and inform them of the potential risk.

If a highly contagious disease is suspected, the CDC will do an evaluation upon arrival. Both the CDC and airports, such as ABIA, have protocols in place to ensure the infected passenger is isolated to prevent spreading any potential infection.

If the CDC’s tests come back positive for any infectious diseases, passengers and the flight crew will be notified. If you think you’ve been on a flight where you may have caught something, you are advised to visit your doctor.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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