02 October 2014

Airlines spooked by Ebola-infected passenger

The first person diagnosed with Ebola in the US took 2 airlines and 3 flights. According to the CDC there is no risk to other travellers.

The first reported case of Ebola in the United States is spooking airline investors and raising the prospect that some frightened travellers might stay home despite repeated reassurances from public-health experts.

No symptoms during trip

Details of the man's 28-hour trip from western Africa emerged on Wednesday. He flew on two airlines, took three flights, and had lengthy airport layovers before reaching Texas on 20 September.

Still, federal officials say other passengers on the flights are at no risk of infection because the man had no symptoms at the time of his trip.

Read: Signs and symptoms of Ebola

Thomas Eric Duncan left Monrovia, Liberia, on 19 September aboard a Brussels Airlines jet to the Belgian capital, according to a Belgian official. After layover of nearly seven hours, he boarded United Airlines Flight 951 to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. After another layover of nearly three hours, he then flew Flight 822 from Dulles to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the airline confirmed.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Duncan sought medical care on 25 September in Dallas after falling ill the day before.

Airline investors spooked

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institutes of Health, told The Associated Press that even though Duncan took several flights to reach the U.S., his lack of symptoms at the time made it "extraordinarily unlikely" that he infected anyone else on the planes.

Still, the incident spooked airline investors. Shares of United and other leading U.S. airline companies dropped 2.8 percent or more. Shares of European carriers fell by similar margins.

"The fear is if this gets worse, it would affect people's travel behaviour," said Joseph DeNardi, an analyst with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Health officials "sound confident that they've got it under control. Hopefully they're right."

Read: Ebola travels by plane to Nigeria

The CDC typically notifies an airline when it learns that an infectious person travelled on that carrier. The airline then turns over the flight manifest to the CDC, and health officials notify other passengers while the airline deals with crew members.

All necessary precautions taken

In this case, the CDC told United but not the public what flights the man took. In an interview on Wednesday with the AP, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, suggested that doing so would divert public-health resources away from controlling an outbreak of the virus. He said the CDC was focused on finding and tracking anyone who came in contact with Duncan after he began showing symptoms.

Read: Rabies worse scourge than Ebola

Public health officials have assured fliers that airports in Africa, Europe and the U.S. are taking all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus, including screening passengers for fever.

An outbreak of SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — crippled air travel in Asia in 2003. Michael Derchin, an analyst with CRT Capital Group, said it is too early to draw a comparison between one Ebola patient and the 2003 SARS outbreak. He noted that SARS is an airborne disease that health officials say is transmitted more easily than Ebola.

(Matt Small of AP Radio in Washington contributed to this report.)

Read more:

Threat of Ebola in US downplayed by health officials
Experts concerned: Ebola may become endemic
American Ebola survivor donates blood to colleague

Image: Airplane aircraft silhouette from Shutterstock




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