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Flight attendants, airline employees question industry's response to Ebola

The world is in the midst of the worst Ebola epidemic in history. The World Health Organization's first statement about the outbreak came in March 2014. Now, a little more than six months later, WHO reports that there have been nearly 9,000 cases and almost 4,500 deaths related to the virus.

For the most part, the epidemic's victims are in western African countries, including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It all seemed so far away.

With any epidemic, there are two objectives: containment and eradication. Without containment, without limiting the number of people exposed to the disease, there is not much hope of banishing it from every country's shores.

WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed extensive guidelines for caregivers in communities affected by Ebola. Here in the U.S., fire departments and other first responders have their own guidelines for handling hazardous materials. National and local news outlets and health officials have been working hard to educate us all about how the virus is spread and what precautions we should take. The underlying message has been that containment should be possible if everyone just follows the rules.

And all of these protocols and guidelines and safety measures seemed to be working. Two U.S. aid workers stricken with the disease in Africa were evacuated amid great controversy. The two were treated and released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. All was well.

But then a man flew from western Africa to Dallas on commercial airlines -- two airlines, three planes, according to the Wall Street Journal -- and the epidemic entered a new dimension. The aid workers who were evacuated were carried on a specially equipped private plane. They didn't fly into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The BBC noted almost in passing that the plane arrived at a "military base."

The news that Thomas Duncan had flown on commercial flights prompted renewed concerns about the virus spreading beyond western Africa. And that put the airlines in the media's crosshairs.

If trained hazmat teams were disinfecting Duncan's apartment -- and now the homes of the two nurses that contracted the disease -- how exactly were the airlines trying to contain the disease? What were they doing to protect their passengers?

And what were they doing to protect their crews? We'll continue this in our next post.

Source: AIN Online, "IATA Stands By Existing Ebola Guidelines," Gregory Polek, Oct. 16, 2014

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