In this post: Track ebola flights, rate your level of fear in a poll, learn how you can protect yourself.
On September 19, a traveler infected with the Ebola virus flew overnight from Monrovia, Liberia on SN Brussels Airlines flight 1247 (an Airbus A330) arriving in Belgium on September 20. (Flight tracking history here)
He departed Brussels at noon on September 20 on United flight 951 (a Boeing 777) and arrived at 2:10pm at Washington Dulles. (Flight history here)
From Washington, he flew on United 822 (an Airbus A320) from Dulles to Dallas Ft Worth according to CNN. (Flight history here)
The key bit of calming information that has emerged from the hysteria is that the passenger, Thomas Duncan, was not ill or exhibiting any symptoms during the flight. The New York Times reports that Duncan likely became infected with the virus when helping to transport an ailing woman to the hospital in Monrovia a few days before his flight.
In a statement, United Airlines said, “The director of the [Centers for Disease Control ] CDC has stated there is ‘zero risk of transmission’ on any flight on which the patient flew because he was not symptomatic until several days after his trip and could not have been contagious on the dates he traveled. While the CDC states it is unnecessary for it or the airline to contact others who were on the patient’s flights, United is providing information about the flights United believes the patient took, based on information provided by the CDC.”
NOTE: Please rate your fear of contracting ebola in our poll at the end of this post
While it’s difficult to determine whether or not your next United flight is one of the flights that Duncan took…or whether anyone else flying near you might be infected with ebola, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
>Don’t freak out. We’ve been here before. Remember SARS and H1N1? Both potentially deadly viruses produced similar hysteria but were quickly contained with little or no impact on the lives of frequent travelers.
>CDC’s Thomas Frieden, MD said that Duncan had, “no symptoms and was tested for fever at the airport before boarding the plane. In fact, all patients leaving African airports in infected areas are now being tested. If they have a fever, they are not allowed to board the plane,” reports long-time TravelSkills reader Lynne Peterson who writes Trends-in-Medicine (www.trends-in-medicine.com) The International Air Transport Association adds that, “It is highly unlikely that someone suffering [ebola] symptoms would feel well enough to travel.”
>The CDC says that there is no evidence that Ebola is transmitted via air– it only spreads via bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood or urine of infected patients. But regarding the possibility of aerosolized transmission, Peterson’s report points out that Frieden has said that “there are theoretical situations where someone who sneezes and touches his eye, mouth or nose– it would not be impossible that it could be spread that way.” Of course, all types of bodily fluids can show up in airplane cabins or hotel rooms. You can protect yourself with frequent hand washing and use of readily available antibacterial wipes, gels and sprays which effectively kill the virus.
>To be extra careful, you can travel with a pair of latex gloves or surgical masks in the rare case you encounter a fellow traveler exhibiting symptoms of infection. This would be especially helpful if you are exposed to vomit on a flight. Flight attendant Heather Poole told ABC News, “When was the last time somebody threw up on you? Happens all the time where I work.”
>Trends-in-Medicine also reports that when the CDC’s Dr Frieden was asked how likely ebola is to be a concern with people coming back from the region who are not showing symptoms, he said, “As long as there continue to be cases in west Africa, the reality is that patients travel, individuals travel, and, as appears to have happened here, people travel before symptoms appear.”
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