Passengers' flu-like symptoms alarm airline crews

Mar 28, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Concerns about possibly contagious airline passengers prompted two recent interventions by Continental Airlines flight crews, one involving a tour group returning from China and the other a high school student with a cough.

Two days ago passengers on a flight from Hong Kong were detained at Newark Liberty International Airport for 2 hours when some passengers who had traveled to China reported influenza-like symptoms, raising concern about avian influenza, Bloomberg News reported yesterday.

Airline officials asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to meet the flight when it landed, Bloomberg reported. CDC spokesperson Shelly Diaz told CIDRAP News that emergency medical services boarded the plane in consultation with the CDC and questioned the ill passengers about possible exposure to birds or people sick with avian flu in China.

Continental Airlines officials said the flight crew noticed that several of the flight's 272 passengers appeared ill, Bloomberg reported. Seven people were sick, and all were among a group of 85 passengers who took a Chinese river cruise before boarding the plane, the story said.

"It was determined that they were most likely suffering from seasonal flu, and there was no reason for further concern," Diaz told Bloomberg.

About 2 hours after the plane landed, the CDC cleared all passengers to enter the United States, the Newark Star Ledger reported 2 days ago.

Fred Jacobs, New Jersey heath commissioner, said if the CDC had determined the travelers' illnesses presented a health hazard, they would have been quarantined at the airport or taken to a hospital, the Star Ledger reported. "We may have well invoked our emergency health powers to direct isolation and quarantine," he said.

Yesterday a Continental Airlines pilot ordered a 16-year-old girl off a flight after she had a coughing fit shortly after boarding the plane, the Hawaii Channel, a television station in Honolulu, reported today.

The girl, who was returning to Hawaii after a spring break trip to New York City and Washington, DC, with her high school class, had to remain behind with a teacher, said the news report, which did not specify which city the flight originated from.

An ambulance and paramedics were called after the girl fell asleep and woke up coughing, her mother, Stephanie Collier, told the Hawaii Channel. A doctor traveling on the plane determined that the girl had no fever and did not pose a threat to other passengers, the news report said.

In 2005, federal health officials updated disease-control rules affecting travelers by adding pandemic influenza to the list of diseases that can prompt isolation and quarantine. The new rules also expanded the definition of ill passengers who must be reported to include those with influenza-like illness, meaning those with fever, cough, and sore throat.

The updated regulations also require airline pilots and ship captains to report to the CDC any passenger who has certain signs and symptoms suggesting one of the nine notifiable diseases, which also include cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, plague, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), smallpox, yellow fever, and viral hemorrhagic fevers.

In December 2006, the US Department of Transportation issued a guidance document on quarantinable diseases for the airline industry.

See also:

Nov 22, 2005 CIDRAP News article "CDC updating disease-control rules affecting travelers"

US Department of Transportation's "National Aviation Resource Manual for Quarantinable Diseases"

Gift Opportunity

Ebola and Emerging Infectious Disease Fund

Your support is critical to ensure CIDRAP's capacity to respond. Your gift in any amount is deeply appreciated.

Newsletter Sign-up

Get news & practices.

Sign up now»

OUR UNDERWRITERS

Unrestricted financial support provided by

Bentson Foundation 3M United Health Foundation Gilead Become an underwriter»