Security, safety and health officials working at Nigeria’s international airports have stepped up surveillance on air passengers entering Nigeria from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its neighbouring countries in a bid to checkmate the outbreak of the Ebola virus currently ravaging the Central African countries.
This became necessary as the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, last Wednesday announced that the Federal Government would be stepping up surveillance at all entry points into Nigeria to prevent the spread of Ebola disease into the country.
“Part of the new measures to be taken include screening passengers coming into the country. Not only that, we will be screening incoming passengers, particularly passengers from DRC and neigbouring countries, but will also ensure we step up all activities about screening people coming in so that we will not be caught unawares,” said Adewole.
Daily Sun learnt that some of the countries whose flights entering Nigeria are to be strictly monitored for sick passengers include: South Sudan; Central African Republic; Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda; Angola and Zambia who are all neighbours to DRC.
The airports where Nigerian Port Health and safety workers have been heavily deployed to check incoming passengers are: Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; Port Harcourt International Airport; and the Kaduna International Airport, Kaduna.
Since an illness is not yet known to be contagious when symptoms first appear, it therefore behooves on cabin crew and passengers on board aircraft from the above listed country to be extra vigilant and treat any passenger with one or more of these signs or symptoms on board the aircraft as a potential Ebola virus patient or carrier: Persistent diarrhea; appears obviously unwell; persistent cough; new unexplained bruising or bleeding; persistent vomiting (other than air sickness); difficulty in breathing; decreased consciousness or confusion of recent onset; complaints of headache and fever.
Where they are not quickly spotted by cabin crew, passengers can assist in cases where they spot such passengers so that they can be quickly isolated as potentially infectious passenger and appropriate infection control measures deployed to contain them till the flight arrives its final destination.
Passengers should however still fly with a high safety consciousness knowing that all air travelers leaving those countries, like DRC are screened for Ebola by responding to a travel health questionnaire, being watched for symptoms and having their body temperature checked, according to a White House fact sheet.
People exposed to Ebola cannot spread it to others unless they have fever or other symptoms of Ebola. Therefore, if you have no symptoms, you are not at risk of transmitting Ebola to others. If their temperatures are 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.6 degrees Celsius) or higher, passengers are taken aside for further screening to determine whether they need to be isolated.
Cabin crew responsibility
If the traveler is considered to have had exposure to Ebola and is exhibiting symptoms consistent with Ebola, cabin crew must swing into action immediately to isolate the ill traveler by creating space between the ill traveler and the other travelers, or by moving other travelers to open seats, if possible. Additionally, cabin crew should apply safety practices and infection control, and follow proper waste management procedures until the destination airport is reached.
They can also ask the sick travelers to cover their mouth with a tissue if coughing or sneezing. They can also offer a facemask for persistent cough, if available, but should not give masks to travelers who say they are nauseated or vomiting due to risk of choking. Seat sick travelers with diarrhea or vomiting close to a bathroom, if possible. Restrict the use of that bathroom to only sick traveler, if possible.
Airline personnel and travelers should not directly handle contaminated materials or touch any body fluids or soiled surfaces and materials. However, in the event the body fluids need to be contained, airline personnel should use the Universal Precaution Kit in the aircraft using their gloves, apron, and face mask and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and carefully apply the solidifier to the fluids, so as to not create splashes or droplets.
Without touching the contaminated materials, the cabin crews who have been well trained on how to contain such passengers on a flight can now apply absorbent material to cover the solidified materials, and ensure that the contaminated area is isolated until the destination is reached.
Passengers on board such an aircraft should ensure that they give the cabin crew all the cooperation required to do their job and contain the situation till the flight touches down its final destination.
It is important for passengers on such a flight while being cautious to however bear in mind the fact that most sick people on planes do not have Ebola, even if they are traveling from a country where Ebola is spreading.
The airline, the airport operators, ground handling agents, and potentially the local public health and/or assigned authorities for Ebola emergency response, should have a coordinated plan describing actions needed for the traveler(s) and the passenger aircraft once at the destination (e.g., quarantine or Ebola lab test).