Friday, August 17, 2018
Transport Canada - Aviation Safety Letter Cabin Safety—Communicable Diseases

Cabin Safety—Communicable Diseases

by Shelley Manuel-Tough, Cabin Safety Inspector, Cabin Safety Standards, Standards, Civil Aviation, Transport Canada

A communicable disease is a disease that can be transmitted from one individual directly to another. Communicable diseases are transmitted through body excretions. While some (e.g. colds and the flu) can be spread by casual contact, others (e.g. tuberculosis) can be spread through respiratory droplets, such as coughing, sneezing or runny noses.

Many communicable diseases have been spread in some way by air travel. Diseases transmitted by person-to-person contact are an obvious air travel concern.

In the past, the incubation period of most communicable diseases was shorter than transit times. This allowed the symptoms of some diseases to arise prior to arrival at destination.

With today’s jet travel, the world has become immediately linked as a community, and this has reduced the effectiveness of geographic separation as a barrier to disease transmission.

A communicable disease is suspected when a passenger or a crew member exhibits one or more of the following signs or symptoms:

  • appearing obviously unwell;
  • persistent coughing;
  • impaired breathing;
  • persistent diarrhoea;
  • persistent vomiting;
  • skin rash;
  • abnormal bleeding;
  • reduced mental clarity.

Cabin Safety

If associated with a fever (temperature of 38°C or greater), the likelihood that the passenger is suffering from a communicable disease is increased.

Basic precautions and safe practices must be followed each time care is provided to a passenger suspected of having a communicable disease.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggests the following general guidelines to help cabin crews deal with passengers suspected of having a communicable disease:

  • request medical ground support;
  • request medical assistance on board;
  • designate one cabin crew member to look after the sick passenger;
  • relocate the sick passenger to a more isolated area, if possible;
  • designate one lavatory for the sick passenger, when possible;
  • use appropriate first aid equipment, such as masks and gloves;
  • dispose of contaminated equipment appropriately;
  • advise the captain so that the illness can be reported prior to landing.

Communicable diseases may be transmitted to passengers who are seated in the same area of an aircraft, usually as a result of passengers touching parts of the aircraft and furnishings that an infected passenger has contaminated by coughing, sneezing or touching.

The risks of transmission to fellow passengers will vary according to the disease, the infectiousness of the case, the ventilation in the aircraft, the dose of exposure (which depends on duration and proximity), and the passenger’s susceptibility to that disease.

For some communicable diseases, the risk may extend beyond passengers and crew on board the aircraft and include people exposed en route to and from the airport, and workers and other travellers at the airport. Some infected passengers only manifest the disease after arrival, magnifying the potential for epidemic spread.

The advent of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, as well as the continuing concern about the potential for a global influenza pandemic, has highlighted the need to ensure reliable notification procedures to port health authorities at the aircraft’s destination, in the event that a suspected case of communicable disease is identified on board.

Section 34 of the Quarantine Act requires that conveyance operators arriving in Canada inform a quarantine officer as soon as possible before the conveyance arrives at its destination if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that any persons or cargo they are carrying could be infected with a communicable disease listed in the schedule under the Act.

Transport Canada is proposing an amendment to section 8, “Aviation First Aid,” of the Flight Attendant Training Standard (TP 12296) to include the subject of communicable diseases. This addition would ensure that flight attendants receive instruction on the signs and symptoms of communicable diseases, and instructions on ways to minimize the risks of spreading the disease.

Transport Canada recently published Advisory Circular (AC) LTA-001, titled Protecting the Health and Safety of Employees On Board Aircraft in Epidemic Situations Involving Airborne Communicable Diseases (available on-line at: LTA/LTA-001.htm). This AC recommends that air operators implement certain precautionary procedures in the event that an ill passenger is detected on board.

Although research has shown that there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft, safety is everyone’s responsibility.


This article was published by Transport Canada in TP 185 Issue 4/2008 -. Reprinted with permission

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