What flight attendants need to know
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious respiratory disease that can be spread throughout the world by global air travel. Growing numbers of passengers are flying to and from regions of the world where tuberculosis (TB), avian flu, and other infectious communicable diseases are endemic. A 1998 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that "[a]pproximately one third of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and TB is the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent in adults worldwide.”
Flight attendants should be aware of the potential for exposure to this disease, and remain vigilant about their health. According to a WHO Factsheet, TB “spreads through the air. Only people who are sick with TB in their lungs are infectious. When infectious people cough, sneeze, talk or spit, they propel TB germs, known as bacilli, into the air. A person needs only to inhale a small number of these to be infected.” If you have come in contact with someone who is known to have an active case of TB, you should immediately contact your primary care physician or an infectious disease specialist, and seek emergency care if needed. If you would like further information or assistance, contact your AFA Employee Assistance Program representative.
Maximizing the airflow to the cabin can reduce your risk of exposure to airborne viruses or bacteria. Encourage your airline and pilots to turn up the air packs to "high" whenever possible. Most airplanes use about 50% re-circulated air, which should first be passed through high efficiency filters to prevent germs from being re-circulated throughout the cabin. These filters should be replaced at least as regularly as the manufacturers recommend. Right now, there are no real air quality standards for airplane cabins, and the airlines often reduce airflow to save fuel and lengthen the time between filter replacements. Crew and passengers need to speak up.
The latest, most complete information on TB is available from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
AFA Activity and Hot Topics
Testimony of Pat Friend, AFA-CWA International President, to the House Committee on Homeland Security, June 6, 2007
References to News Articles
New York Times (requires free registration)
WHO: Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB)
CDC: Investigation of U.S. Traveler with Extensively Drug–Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB)
Tuberculosis, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
XDR Tuberculosis — Implications for Global Public Health. Mario C. Raviglione, M.D., and Ian M. Smith, M.B., Ch.B. The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 356:656-659. Feb. 15, 2007.
Download: 6.07.07 Homeland Security TB - for the record.pdf