New H1N1 virus threatens aviation industry
A 20 year old Caucasian male has collapsed in the departure lounge of Germany’s Frankfurt International Airport displaying flu like symptoms.
According to post 2009 H1N1 protocol, the man (who remains unidentified), has been administered an experimental anti-viral based on the corresponding vaccine.
The man, who remains stable and in quarantine began showing symptoms an hour prior to being hospitalized and reportedly passed out after being stopped by security.
It is unknown whether the patient’s passing out was caused by his symptoms or whether he simply fainted.
Blood samples and symptoms similar to H1N1 indicate it to be an air-born pathogen with a contagious incubation time of 12 hours.
While it has been six hours since the time of his delayed flight, it is unknown how long he had been at the airport prior to the delay.
Germany could have a potential outbreak on its hands, one comparable to or ultimately worse than what the world witnessed during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Frankfurt International Airport services up to 400,000 passengers each day with the most international destinations worldwide.
H1N1, more commonly referred to as ‘swine flu’ is known to spread the same way as the seasonal flu – through coughing, sneezing, talking and touching of infected surfaces.
From 2009 to 2010, the aviation industry implemented tough measures, issuing airport security staff with guidelines on how to test for possible swine flu.
To aid in dealing with the crisis, various government websites were also established.
Many of these websites contained information such as pandemic influenza planning checklists plus guidance on how to conduct proper cleaning within the airline and travel industry.
However, following the swine flu outbreak, airlines suffered severe losses with many people too afraid to travel both domestically and internationally.
The pandemic hit the aviation industry so hard that worldwide airline losses were predicted to total an astounding $9 billion.
At the time, IATA Chief Executive Officer, Giovanni Bisignani announced, “This is the most difficult situation that the industry has faced. Our future depends on a drastic reshaping by partners, governments and industry.”
During the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic, the aviation industry including international travel and trade were greatly affected as it was not prepared for such an extreme international public health emergency.
In such health crises, the International Health Regulations (IHR) is used as a vital mechanism in fighting against the spread of infectious diseases, including air-born pathogens.
As an international legal agreement, the IHR binds 194 countries worldwide including all Member states of WHO.
It aims to assist the international community by preventing and responding to severe public health risks while increasing global public health security.
In accordance with the IHR, contracting states should not interrupt air transport services for health reasons.
In May 2010, the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) stated, “Contracting states should first consult with the WHO and health authorities of the State of occurrence of the disease before taking any decision as to the suspension of air transport services.”
Given the size of Frankfurt’s International Airport, a viral outbreak in such a location raises serious concerns both for Germany and the aviation industry.
The possibility of the patient exposing an unknown number of travelers to the disease is likely and could be detrimental if not dealt with swiftly and appropriately.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) phases of infection, areas it did infect were no where near as extreme as previous pandemics.
Significant improvements in personal hygiene, sanitation and advancements in general public health have minimized the frequency of pandemics.
Now more than ever, influenza outbreaks have become the key focus of major public health organizations.
In 2010, following the H1N1 outbreak, WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan stated, “Pandemics, like the viruses that cause them, are unpredictable and prone to deliver surprises. No two pandemics are ever alike.”
It is clear Germany will need to take stringent action to minimize the effects of this unknown disease.
United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, emphasized how the H1N1 outbreak was a strong reminder of just how interconnected countries are and that global solidarity was the only way to confront the virus.
“A threat to one country is a threat to all, requiring a collective global response,” Mr. Ban said.
“Our watchword in potential health crises, now and in the future, must be solidarity — a global solidarity.”
While Germany was well prepared and took appropriate measures with the swine flu pandemic in 2009, it is hoped it will now implement these same extensive practices should another outbreak arise from this situation.
Worst case scenario could see the aviation industry take another hard hit and Germany on the brink of global threat.
Only time will tell.