The First Draft: Will U.S. Ban Air Passengers with Swine Flu?

September 2, 2009

The answer is a resolute ‘no.’

Instead, the Obama administration hopes to combat infection aboard U.S. flights by encouraging hand-washing in the air. Dealing with sick passengers will be left to individual airlines, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show. USA/

“They have that question with other people who show up and look like they’re sick and had it even before the swine flu was spoken about,” Napolitano said.

“What we’ve been meeting with the airlines about is making sure that hand-washing is easily accessible and that those kinds of things are available on planes for travelers.”

H1N1 infection is expected to balloon in the Northern Hemisphere as cooler weather sets in this autumn, raising the danger of major disruptions for businesses and governments as large numbers of workers call in sick.

That alone could pose national security problems, given that the U.S. government won’t have vaccines available until after infection begins to take hold.

Worst-case predictions suggest that between 30,000 and 90,000 people could die from the swine flu in the United States while up to 1.8 million flu patients could crowd U.S. hospital wards.

Advisers to President Barack Obama have asked the government to speed up the availability of vaccine. But vaccinations are not likely to be ready before October.

Meanwhile, that leaves hand-washing as the Obama administration’s frontline defense against swine flu’s spread. To promote the habit, Washington has turned to Sesame Street’s Elmo, the PBS children’s show character who has befriended decades of toddlers with his high-pitched voice, crayon and jingle bells piano playing.  

“Come on! Wash your hands with Elmo! Wash! Wash! Wash!” the fuzzy red Sesame Street ‘monster’ says in a public service announcement released this week.

The same goes for those way up there in the Wild Blue Yonder.

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook (Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano)

6 comments

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Secretary Napolitano continues to amaze me. IMHO, she’s a world-class idiot… except to hand-soap manufactures. Given the state of aircraft cabin ventilation, we are more at risk for contracting Swine Flu through a fellow passengers coughs and sneezes, a situation which has apparently escaped the twit’s notice.

“… ASHRAE Standard 161, Air Quality within Commercial Aircraft, addresses this aspect. ASHRAE is working to get the FAA to adopt the standard, or to have the standard included in federal aviation legislation.”
http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRele ase/idUS166221+29-Apr-2009+PRN20090429

Posted by Bob Walton | Report as abusive

Lets see hand washing as the first line of defense for a problem that ” could” kill up to 90,00 and infect 1.8 million,
America, where is your technology? It sounds like the Swine flu might help take care of part of the health problem facing uninsured or under insured people here. Just wipe them out!!!
Yes lets let them travel thru our airports and hop from city to city depending on which airlines you fly. I am sure our “professional medically trained” airport screeners will catch each and every infected person so I will not be sitting next to someone on a flight with them sneezing and coughing in my face.
ARE YOU KIDDING?
Dear members of congress… I appreciate the fact that you will wait your turn in line like every one else when the vaccine becomes available, giving equality to all as you preach. BET NOT…

I do hope the government is ready to use crowd control when the first vaccines become public and unruly lines form ,,, or will everyone be ladies and gentlemen and stand quietly when the supplies run out ….

Posted by MontyMoose | Report as abusive

It’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of affairs when commentary on policy seems to typically involve pejorative. “[T]he twit” doesn’t seem likely to prove productive in any way at all…but then, I doubt such participants have any goals short of their own immediate satisfaction, and ‘to hell’ with anyone or anything in the way.

‘Regular’ seasonal flu typically kills around 30,000 persons a year…and has for decades. So why all the sudden outrage over continuing the same policies for what can only be considered as just another strain of pretty much the same thing?

It seems we’ve arrived at a point where we’re completely infatuated with apocalypse (global warming, swine flu, Iranian nukes…you name it…) and outrage.

These kinds of comments argue against, rather than for, any more ‘democratic’ government than we already have, that itself clearly being way too much!

Posted by Adiff | Report as abusive

I’m on day six of a fight with Swine Flu. If anyone got on an airplane with a fever they should be rejected at customs. In fact, if the technology exists to screen passengers for a fever quickly, then that should be attempted. Airlines should be required to re-book the customers once they have become well, so that is no economic affect to the passenger.

I’ve worked in Airline Management, if that means anything. Reduced breathing efficiency is one of the key symptoms of the Swine Flu, and airlines don’t need to take a sick person up to 35,000 feet (8,000 foot cabin pressure altitude) and then have that person pass out from lack of oxygen. That’s going to make the flight return anyway.

So, Airlines, figure out a way to check for a fever at the gate. If they have a fever above 99.5, we’ll see you when you’re feeling better.

Posted by baronpilot | Report as abusive

I’m just glad that what Bob Walton and MontyMoose have isn’t contagious, or is it? Does seem that there are a lot more nasty people putting in their opinions on every subject. Everybody just take a deep breath, stretch you arms out and then wrap them around yourself and give yourself a great big hug. TURN OFF FOX TV that is the more viral than any influenza virus and has the potential for killing more people by inflaming people with lies and inuendo. If you heard it on Fox its probably a lie

Posted by Mary J | Report as abusive

I noticed a new article today about the Airline employees being most likely to infect the public. In the article it talked about how most likely low paid employees like the outsourced cleaning staff will be the highest threat because they cant afford to take sick time. At Some of the major airlines it will be the flight attendants for sure. The airline I work for has sick time for their flight attendants, but although most work 110 hrs to 120hrs a month, the company only pays 83 hrs max if you call in sick. Very few flight attendants I know will be staying home if they feel a little under the weather. Swine flu or not in this economy no one is going to voluntarily take a 30-40% pay cut if at all possible. I’ve seen some very sick flight attendants show up and go to work even though they have hundreds of hours of sick bank, because if they do call in sick, the company will just not pay them for the time and they wont be able to tap into their sick bank. If they are deathly ill of coarse nobody is going to go to work, but they might have worked many trips infecting the public before they get that sick. I’m positive that it’s much more likely that a sick flight attendant is going to be a big threat this year with the Swine flu just getting ready to hit us this year.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive