Flight attendants to Obama: Address Zika concerns

Originally posted on The Hill by Keith Laing.

A union that represents flight attendants is calling on President Obama to address concerns from airline crew members about the Zika virus that has emerged in areas in the Caribbean and Latin America. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel alert for pregnant women who are visiting areas that are prone to the Zika virus, which the agency has said is typically carried by mosquitos in tropical climates and can be spread to children during birth.   

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said Obama should "act quickly to address emerging global calls to prevent importation of insects that carry vector-borne disease on commercial airline flights and ... do so in a way that maximizes protections for the health of airline passengers and crew." 


"Approximately 50 countries require aircraft disinsection," the union said in letter to the president. "As recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), this involves spraying the cabin with pesticide. As front line responders, Flight Attendants are particularly vulnerable to the effects of this outdated and unacceptable practice. The US government has long expressed significant concern about pesticide use on airplanes." 

"The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommends that states accept WHO-recommended methods of aircraft disinsection, but allows for testing of alternative non-chemical methods for WHO approval," the flight attendants' union continued. "The US has investigated non-chemical methods of disinsection, and WHO should accelerate its review and approval of these methods to protect the health of airline passengers and crew."  

Airlines have offered to re-assign pregnant crew members from flights to areas in the Caribbean and Latin America that have been affected by the Zika virus. 

The flight attendants' union said the Obama administration should step in to further protect airline workers from potential exposure to the Zika virus on international flights. 

"As soon as possible, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) should implement necessary testing and validation processes so airlines can opt for safe, non-chemical means of disinsection," the union wrote. "If any country insists on chemical spraying on U.S. aircraft, we ask that you require measures to protect the health of crew/passengers." 

The CDC has said "there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. 

"Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites," the agency said in its recent travel warning. 

It added that "no locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the continental United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers.

"Locally transmitted Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico," the agency said. "With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase." 

Several airlines have begun offering refunds for flights to areas in the Caribbean and Latin America that have been affected by the virus. 

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