Zika Virus: Resources for Flight Attendants

Updated: August 22, 2016

The Zika virus is causing current worldwide concern due to a risk of birth defects of the brain, other severe infant and fetal brain defects and developmental disorders, and nervous system disorders. For these reasons the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued numerous travel alerts and advisories, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. At this time, active Zika virus transmission is occurring in the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South America, and the South Pacific.

The CDC currently provides the following overview of the disease: Zika virus is transmitted through mosquito bites, from a pregnant woman to her fetus, sex, and blood transfusion (this last is likely but not confirmed.) The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

ON THIS PAGE: 

  • Summary of CDC Information
  • CDC Zika Guidance for the Airline Industry
  • Recommendations for Aviation Response to the Zika Virus Outbreak
  • ZIKA in the News
  • What's New from the CDC

Summary of CDC Information:

What we know

  • Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). These mosquitoes are aggressive daytime biters. They can also bite at night.
  • Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects.
  • There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.

Zika-Affected Areas

Where has Zika virus been found?

  • Prior to 2015, Zika virus outbreaks have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
  • In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infections in Brazil.
  • Currently, outbreaks are occurring in many countries including the U.S. (Miami-Dade, Florida region).
  • Zika virus will continue to spread and it will be difficult to determine how the virus will spread over time.
  • For the latest Travel Notice Information, click here.

Zika in the United States and its territories:

  • Locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in Miami-Dade, Florida and cases have been reported in returning travelers.
    • The CDC has advised pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant (female and male partners) to avoid travel to the area. 
  • Locally transmitted Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
  • With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase.

Recommendations

Special precautions for pregnant women, women and their partners thinking about pregnancy, travelers, and workers:

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should not travel to the areas where Zika virus is spreading. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. Pregnant women should also take steps to prevent getting Zika through sex.
  • Women and their partners thinking about pregnancy should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas, strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip, and take steps to prevent getting Zika through sex.
  • Travelers should review the latest Zika Travel Information prior to travel.
  • Workers at risk for Zika include those who work in or travel to an area where Zika is found. NIOSH and OSHA have developed interim guidance for protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus, and NIOSH has developed a fact sheet and poster for cruise ship workers.

CDC Zika Guidance for the Airline Industry

  • The risk of a person being infected with Zika during air travel is very low because few adult mosquitoes are found on board commercial flights. To date, there have been no documented cases of a person being infected with Zika during commercial air travel.
  • There are no travel restrictions for people who may have Zika. Air crew should keep in mind that sick travelers from countries with Zika could have other infectious diseases and follow routine infection control precautions.
  • If you suspect a passenger might have Zika, airline staff should follow normal procedures for reporting in-flight illnesses according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations [42 CFR 70.4 and 71.21(b)]. CDC is not requesting any additional reporting from airlines of sick travelers who may have Zika.
  • CDC is not conducting enhanced entry screening for travelers coming from areas with Zika. Because most people who have Zika do not have symptoms, entry screening will not work to prevent imported cases. CDC’s travel notices for Zika include a recommendation that people traveling from areas with Zika take steps to prevent mosquito bites for 3 weeks after arriving in the United States, even if they are not sick, to reduce the chance that they might spread the virus to local mosquitoes. Men who have been in an area with Zika should use condoms to protect their sex partners.
  • CDC does not require or recommend disinsection of aircraft from areas with Zika.
  • Airlines should follow guidance from countries that require disinsection regarding the required delivery method and frequency. The aircraft captain should provide the ICAO General Aircraft Declaration to authorities at destination to declare that disinsection has been completed. Some countries may insist on having their own staff conduct disinsection.

Flight Attendants need to be aware of the virus and determine personal strategies for mitigating potential risk. AFA is working with airlines, government and public health officials to ensure we have the best possible information about the virus and policies in place to support Flight Attendant health and address Flight Attendant concerns. 

Contact your airline for the current policies and keep your AFA Safety Committee informed of any direction provided at work contrary to posted policies, or information about specific concerns. Contact Dinkar Mokadam in AFA-CWA Air Safety, Health and Security Department, if you have any questions or concerns. You can reach him at: dmokadam@afanet.org. 

Recommendations for Aviation Response to the Zika Virus Outbreak 

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) calls for the federal agencies overseeing aviation safety and health to require that all airlines comply with the following emergency measures to protect airline workers from exposure to the Zika virus. These measures, added to the Communicable Disease Incident Response Checklists that follow, will help to ensure the health of airline workers and the traveling public.

- Given possible links between Zika virus and birth defects, airline policies must allow workers who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to opt out of travel, without penalty or repercussion, into affected countries.

- For every crew member on all flights into Zika virus affected locations, provide adequate supplies of insect repellants that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined are appropriate protection against the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus.

- Provide crew members the latest information from relevant authorities including the CDC, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the World Health Organization (WHO), regarding the Zika virus outbreak, identification of signs/symptoms of illness (in oneself and others), and procedures to manage potentially ill persons.

- To protect the health of airline passengers and crew, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) should implement testing and validation of safe, mechanical (non-chemical) means for preventing the transport of disease-carrying mosquitoes on commercial airplanes. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to approve safe and effective mechanical disinsection methods in lieu of outdated and unacceptable pesticide spraying on aircraft, the US government should urge the WHO to accelerate the necessary review and approval process.

View AFA's Communicable Disease Incidence Response Checklists

AFA International President Sara Nelson sent a letter to President Obama and Transportation Secretary Foxx urging the administration to address concerns about Zika spreading to non-infected countries on commercial airline flights. Read the entire letter >

ZIKA in the News

Zika Virus Travel Caution Extends to All of Miami-Dade County, Wall Street Journal (August 19, 2016)

Summer Travel and the Zika Virus, New York Times (July 22, 2016)

1st Death Related to Zika Virus Seen in Continental US, Bloomberg (Jul. 9, 2016)

Rio Olympics to Be Petri Dish for Study of Zika Virus, Bloomberg (Jul. 6, 2016)

Obama Says Zika Vaccine Is Likely If Congress Funds Research, Bloomberg (Jul. 1, 2016)

Travelers to Dominican Republic Lead New York City in Positive Zika Tests, New York Times (Jun. 30, 2016)

Officials Set Plan to Fight Zika in U.S., New York Times (Jun. 10, 2016)

Flight attendants to Obama: Address Zika concerns, The Hill (Feb. 25, 2016)

Combatting the Zika Virus and Improving Our Health Care Infrastructure, AFL-CIO (Feb. 24, 2016)

Zika is a reproductive rights issue, The Boston Globe (Feb. 7, 2016)

Exclusive: Top airlines offer to re-assign crew from Zika-hit routes, Reuters (Feb. 4, 2016)

 

This article was originally posted on January 28, 2016.

SEE ALSO: Ebola Virus Information

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