Pigs can’t fly yet, but the swine flu is still a reason to stay out of the sky.
At least, that is, if you ask Vice President Joe Biden. And most Southwest Floridians aren’t. Nor are their travel agents. Or their airlines. Or the rest of the federal government.
“I would tell members of my family — and I have — that I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday morning.
Only problem is, Biden’s advice is not in line with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official message, which is for citizens to only avoid non-essential travel to Mexico. Pundits quickly tacked the comment up as another off-the-cuff remark, which Biden has a reputation for, but travel industry officials were decidedly more upset, with one saying the comment bordered on “fear mongering.”
“To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke,” said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines.''
I suppose a spokesman for American Airlines just couldn't have a bias, could he? Or a conflict of interest?
Either way, though, a possible Biden gaffe wasn’t going to keep Shari Munger of Sarasota from visiting Chicago on Thursday out of Southwest Florida International Airport. Munger, who said she was in her early 40s, said she felt the whole swine flu thing was being blown out of proportion.
“Not at all worried,” Munger said. “I think the media has a tendency to exaggerate things.”
But there are people taking precautions, feeling, like Biden, that confined spaces result in pandemics.
“It’s not just going to Mexico, if you’re in a confined aircraft and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft,” Biden said, adding that other transportation options may be worth a look.''
Just for perspective, let's see what information is out there on air travel and contagious illness. There's this:
Airborne illness and air travel simply go hand in hand, and anyone that travels often will tell you so. The problem with air travel is that you are talking about thousands and over the course of a year, millions of people who travel in the same aircrafts. Simply put, there are germs everywhere in an aircraft and it doesn’t matter how well the crews clean them, these germs cannot be removed because they are not just on things, they are in the air.And this:
Every year millions of people come down with the flu or common colds after traveling on an aircraft. Though a good number of these people may not correlate the two, the likelihood that they picked up their cold or flu bug on the aircraft is very high. The problem with airplanes is that many people get on and off them all the time. Some of these people may be sick, some may just be recovering, and some may be sick and not even realize it.
[...] Obviously, when you are talking about an aircraft you are talking about a small place where the air is just recycled over and over again, allowing the germs the perfect environment to meet up with bodies that are just waiting to get sick! Air travel is one of the easiest ways to get sick, and for many, there is no way around it!
An obvious way to avoid the airborne illnesses on board an aircraft is just to stay away from them! Though, for many this isn’t really an option, as they have to travel for business or personal reasons. So, the best thing you can do is avoid air travel when you are recovering from an illness or any time you feel as though your immune system may not be at its best. Any time your immune system has already been compromised, you are even more likely to contract an airborne illness.
In addition to fighting off the airborne illnesses, you might want to think about everything you touch on board the aircraft. If there are germs and bacteria in the air, you can bet all the surfaces are contaminated as well.
Airplane Air makes People Sick
Former flight attendant now health activist, Diana Fairechild, has formed a nonprofit foundation to educate people about airplane air. She mentions a number of added hazards that may be present, resulting from things like hydraulic fluid gases.
Here’s what she says:
“The problem is apparently complex. A number of environmental factors in the aircraft cabin are being blamed, including low oxygen in recycled air, low humidity that puts a strain on the respiratory tract, and pesticide residues from systematic sprayings. Now a new problem is at the forefront of potential causes. Toxic chemical vapors originate from hydraulic spills—and the resulting cabin fumes are now being directly linked to incidents of flight attendant illnesses.”
Could a pleasant and enjoyable flight be the cause of a serious infection? Can airplanes be transporters of diseases? As you settle down in your seat, is a deadly infection already lurking amidst the carpeted and cushioned interior of the plane? Airplanes –Ticket to Infection?
Little did such thoughts enter our mind until the bird flu, SARS, hit our planet this millennium. In fact, air travel and communicable diseases have a hand in glove association; especially air borne infections.
A major cause attributed to the spread of infections within flights is the recycled cabin air. Till the 70’s, 100% fresh air was pumped into the cabin of airplanes every 3 minutes. But, anticipated increase in fuel costs during the late 70’s prompted research into methods of cutting down on fuel consumption and thereby, the cost. It was found that circulating fresh air within the cabin of an aircraft used up more fuel; so, since the 80’s, its percentage was cut in half. The reduced fresh air coupled with re-circulated stale air creates an environment conducive for many a health problem ranging from headaches, dizziness and nausea to various infections.
A study by Boeing and Pall Cabin Filters Brochure in 1999 showed that a cough produces 100,000 particles that can be dispersed over 20 rows in the cabin!
When infected passengers cough, sneeze or talk, droplets are released. It is in these droplets that the bacteria or viruses nestle until they gain entry into another victim. The unsuspecting, otherwise healthy passenger inhales the circulating recycled air that contains some of these droplets. Thus, the infection spreads among vulnerable passengers.
According to the Boeing Flight Manual, recycled air within an aircraft usually consists of 50% fresh and 50% stale air. Under such conditions, airborne germs are free to float around and the notorious ones include-
- Common Cold
- Influenza (flu)
- Chicken pox
Risk of tuberculosis - Kenyon T.A. et al (1996) proved that tuberculosis could be transmitted to passengers through the air conditioning. A study on ‘the transmission of infections diseases during commercial air travel’ reported in March 2005 in ‘The Lancet’, adds further proof to this finding. Researchers found that healthy passengers sitting within two rows of a contagious passenger for a flight, longer than eight hours, were at risk of contacting the disease.
SARS Infection - An outbreak of SARS on board a flight from Hong Kong to Beijing showed that passengers seated as far back as seven rows from the infected individual were affected.''
The article also mentions other conditions like skin infections, malaria, and even gastrointestinal illnesses being spread via air travel.
Interestingly, here is what the CDC has to say on air travel health hazards, from its own website:
In-Flight Transmission of Communicable Diseases
Concern has been increasing about the possible spread of communicable diseases during air travel. In certain circumstances when an infectious person or someone who is suspected of being infectious has traveled by air, public health authorities require passenger information for contact tracing and follow up. This information is collected from the passengers or the airlines and handled in a confidential manner. Information is available regarding in-flight transmission of a few diseases, including tuberculosis, Neisseria meningitidis, measles, influenza, SARS, and the common cold.
Only one investigation has documented transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) from a symptomatic passenger to six other passengers who were seated in the same section of a commercial aircraft during a long flight (>8 hours) (4). These six passengers were identified by conversion to a positive tuberculin skin test (TST); none had evidence of active tuberculosis. Driver et al. (5) investigated the potential for TB transmission by a symptomatic airline crew member over a 6-month period (5). They found that evidence of infection (i.e., TST positivity) among other crew members increased markedly during the period when the index case was most infectious and was associated with having worked >12 hours with the index case. Evidence suggested the potential that TB had been transmitted to passengers who had flown when the index case was most infectious.
People known to have infectious TB should travel by private transportation, rather than a commercial carrier, if travel is required.
Influenza is highly contagious, particularly among people in enclosed, poorly ventilated spaces. Transmission of influenza is thought to be primarily due to large droplets and has been documented aboard an aircraft, with most risk being associated with proximity to the source. (See Chapter 4 and http://www.cdc.gov/flu for more information.) The 1979 airplane-associated outbreak of influenza in Alaska, during which 72% of passengers became ill with influenza-like illness, does not reflect what generally happens on commercial flights. In this situation, the airplane experienced engine failure prior to takeoff and remained on the ground with the ventilation system turned off. The cabin doors remained closed, and many passengers remained on board for hours (10). In terms of understanding seasonal influenza transmission dynamics on a commercial airline, a potentially more useful influenza outbreak investigation associated with an aircraft is the 1999 outbreak reported in Australia, during which most of the infected passengers were seated within three rows of the index case, and all the people seated in the same row were infected (11).
Since 1997, a new strain of avian influenza virus (H5N1) has been shown to cause infection in humans, primarily associated with direct contact with birds and with no sustained human-to-human spread to date. Because influenza viruses are very adept at changing, there is concern that this strain could eventually to spread among humans and thus would impact air travel. See http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel for more general information and up-to-date, specific guidelines for travelers and the airline industry.''
There is more at the website. Please note that the article I excerpted above was posted in June 2007, and not updated since then. Care to bet whether the CDC will have to update this page to make it conform to the current 'nothing to worry about' blather from the administration?
This travel forum contains some posts going back to April 22, warning of respiratory illness in South and Central Mexico.
I notice a number of posts appear to have been deleted since then. Why? For fear of hurting the travel industry? If the posts I linked to about the illness are no longer there when you click the link, they will have been removed by the website.
Has everybody forgotten this story from 2007 in which an American lawyer who had drug-resistant TB was quarantined after he defied doctor's orders and took a plane flight?
It is the first time since 1963, that the CDC has issued an order for a patient to be quarantined. Usually, such decisions are left to the states, but this case involved international and interstate travel, so the federal government stepped in.
The CDC is concerned about passengers seated in rows near the infected man on a May 13, Atlanta to Paris, Air France 385 flight and another Czech Air 0104 from Prague to Canada on May 23.
There have only been a few cases of people acquiring highly infectious diseases on long flights. Dr. Henry Masur, president of the Infectious Disease Society says exposure – even at close proximity — doesn't usually result in infection.
This man was advised not to travel and did. Why?
You're dealing with human behavior. We know that, dating back to the earliest of times, there are people who, for selfish reasons, for unclear purposes, will in fact do whatever they please. In this case, this is where public health has to battle the issue of individual rights and privacy with that of the greater health good. This was a collision that was bound to happen sometime and will happen more often in the future.
Shouldn't there be more stringent rules preventing them from doing whatever they please?
This individual had been compliant with public health action. It was only with the advent of his wedding in Europe that he decided that he wasn't going to be. There was actually an order issued before he left the United States, but [public health officials] were unable to serve it on him. This just points out that you have to have extreme measures for the very, very small number of people who just won't be compliant.''
Which brings me to another point: our derelict and irresponsible officials, so worried about the political and economic consequences of this flu outbreak, have repeated, despite what Biden said, they do not advise anyone to avoid air travel or public places --- except "those who are sick.''
But as the last paragraph in the quote above tells us, human behavior can be perverse; people can and do defy common sense and common courtesy and will go out in public, callously exposing others to whatever illness they have. The idea that all people who are infected, or who might be infected, will segregate themselves out of concern for the rest of us is foolish. The case of the TB-infected lawyer willfully exposing others to his drug-resistant malady on two long flights illustrate that fact. If we cannot trust a highly-educated and supposedly conscientious professional man to obey the rules and avoid exposing others, how can we expect that of people at large, perhaps people who are not capable of understanding the seriousness of the disease or the means of contagion?
And here's another story from a year ago, of a woman who caught TB from a fellow passenger on a New Delhi-Chicago flight.
So for anyone to chastise Biden, of whom I am no admirer, by the way, for a 'gaffe' about the risks of air travel or mass transit, is absurd, and it shows how people are so easily dissuaded from common-sense knowledge that was taken for granted not long ago.
Biden's statement, far from being a 'gaffe', was just politically incorrect, and now, in the effort to defend the administration's official story, officials are making him out to be a fool, and the FReepers are ridiculing Biden. But nevertheless, there are risks involved in taking mass transit, especially airplane flights, even though those in the travel industry or anyone with vested interests are now trying to downplay or deny that.
I find it creepy how easily people can be persuaded one way or the other, based on what their political authorities are saying.
And I find it sinister how people in high positions apparently have wanton disregard for the safety of the citizens of this country, choosing politics and economic interests above the life and well-being of their own countrymen.
I realize that some of the perpetual cynics on the right have an interest in denying that there is anything to this flu outbreak, but surely it's better to be safe than sorry. It is not a choice between denying that there is any danger at all and panicking. There is a sensible middle ground here; being vigilant and prepared is better than a knee-jerk denial of whatever the other side is saying.
Even if this outbreak proves to be nothing serious, and just another type of flu, the flu is no joke. I've been noticing for at least the last decade or so that there are much nastier and harder-to-shake kinds of respiratory viruses going around every year. To me, even if this thing is just 'ordinary' flu, it's well worth it to avoid it if at all possible, and it's irresponsible to laugh this thing off, especially this early in the game.
That being said, those in positions of authority seem to be contradicting themselves; I hear some people saying that the authorities are trying to cause panic, such as by raising the outbreak to pandemic level, while at the same time, these pathetic officials are telling us there is no need to close any borders or to quarantine anyone or even to avoid public gatherings and mass transit. The fact that they are now contradicting themselves, as the CDC is doing, based on their information from 2007, makes little sense. I don't see them creating panic; they seem just as equally committed to fostering a cavalier or passive attitude about this. What is going on? Are they trying to merely confuse people by repeating contradictory and conflicting messages?
All they are doing, as far as I am concerned, is discrediting themselves and showing themselves to have no real concern for us, the people they are supposedly sworn to serve.
By the way, see Tanstaafl's take on this here.