NEW YORK – Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on record that Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. population, the agency still published guidance for airline flight crews, cleaning personnel and cargo workers regarding safe handling of infected passengers.
The advisory begins by describing Ebola as “a severe, often-fatal disease” that while rare, can spread from person to person, especially among health-care staff and other people who have close contact with an infected person.
The advisory then notes the likelihood of contracting Ebola is extremely low unless a person has direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person or animal that is infected and showing symptoms.
Trying to dampen fears of travel to West Africa, the location of the current outbreak, the advisory comments that a fever in a person who has traveled or lived in an area where Ebola is present is “likely to be caused by a more common infectious disease, but the person would need to be evaluated by a health care provider to be sure.”
To assist in the identification of Ebola symptoms, the CDC provided the following description of how the infection operates:
The incubation period, from exposure to when signs or symptoms appear, for Ebola ranges from 2 to 21 days. Early symptoms include sudden fever, chills, and muscle aches. Around the fifth day, a skin rash can occur. Nausea, vomiting, chest pain, sore throat, abdominal pain, and diarrhea may follow. Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include jaundice (yellow skin), severe weight loss, mental confusion, shock, and multi-organ failure.
The CDC advised that crew members on a flight with a passenger or crew member who is “ill with fever, jaundice, or bleeding” and has been traveling from or has recently been in an area at risk for the disease should follow these precautions:
- Keep the sick person separated from others as much as possible.
- Provide the sick person with a surgical mask (if the sick person can tolerate wearing one) to reduce the number of droplets expelled into the air by talking, sneezing, or coughing.
- Give tissues to a sick person who cannot tolerate a mask. Provide a plastic bag for disposing of used tissues.
- Wear impermeable disposable gloves for direct contact with blood or other body fluids.
In March, the CDC issued more comprehensive recommendations for cabin crew members on commercial aircraft to deal with someone onboard who is ill with a possible contagious infection, including but not limited to Ebola.
The more general guidelines advise airline crew members to treat any body fluid of ill persons suspected of having a contagious disease as if the body fluid is infectious.
The CDC notes that hand hygiene is the single most important infection-control measure, though it also advises wearing water impermeable, disposable gloves and face masks.
Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian government official who died from the Ebola virus after becoming ill on a flight to Nigeria from Liberia, as reported by the New York Daily News, fueled fears the disease can be spread through air travel.
Sawyer had family living in Minnesota and reportedly was scheduled to return to the U.S. in August.
The Associated Press reported officials with Nigeria’s Ministry of Health are monitoring for signs of Ebola some 50 additional passengers on the flight with Sawyer, although so far none have been quarantined.
Separately, BBC News has reported the West African airline ASKY has stopped flying to Liberia and Sierra Leone as a result of growing concern about the spread of the Ebola virus.
Delta and United, the two U.S. airlines that offer direct flights from the U.S. to West African destinations have not altered their flight operations, according to an International Business Times report.
John O’Connor, a CDC spokesman, told ABC News, “It’s true that anyone with an illness is just one plane ride from coming to the U.S., but we have precautions in place.”
ABC News did not report any precautions O’Connor may have specified.