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Quickly Noted: About Those Sick Passengers

April 26, 2010

USA Today posted an article last week that showed just how sticky this thing about quarantining airline passengers can be. See, I tend to fall on the side of NOT forcibly quarantining folks. My thinking is that hard and fast rules tend to punish the innocent (or non-infectious, as the case may be); you can always ramp up your protections as needed, rolling them back is a lot trickier. Besides, H1N1 showed just how useless restricting air travel can be at preventing disease spread, even with an airborne pandemic.

Of course, my thinking is dependent on one little thing. If you know what’s coming through the airport, you can respond. You can take that guy with Lassa Fever and quarantine him! But, if you don’t even know that he’s there…

In 2009, theĀ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 20 U.S. regional quarantine stations received 1,623 reports of illnesses or deaths involving airline passengers, data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show. Yet in some CDC regions, ambulance records at a single airport show far more people receiving emergency medical treatment for illnesses than were reported from multiple states.

So, it’s a sticky situation. From the article, it looks like only a very small percentage of sick cases are being called into the local DGMQ office at airports. Sounds like CDC had better hurry up with those new regulations (less than four years this time, maybe?) and include some language about at least reporting infectious disease to the CDC.

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