In-flight medical calls spike on Ebola fears

ORLANDO, Fla – As a doctor who advises flight crews about medical issues that crop up in the air, Paulo Alves has heard a lot about Ebola lately.

Alves’ company, MedAir, has received a spike in calls reflecting overblown fears of Ebola, he told a business aviation conference on Wednesday.

A passenger from Papua New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, north of Australia, triggered a call by flight personnel who seized on the word Guinea, one of the West African countries suffering from the deadly virus that has also broken out in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Alves said.

Another call resulted from a man who told crew his wife needed a “favor” which they misheard as “fever.” Alves, who formerly worked as medical director at Varig Airlines in Brazil, advocated exit screening for people leaving countries with infectious diseases, even after the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa passes.

It should be considered“business as usual” to contain diseases to their countries of origin, and is more effective than screening passengers on arrival, he said The discussion, hastily added to the agenda, drew a standing-room only crowd at the conference, organized by the National Business Aviation Association.

Amid talk of rising jet sales and new aircraft types, the panel of experts urged that programs to screen passengers before they leave a country be made permanent.

Alves, who fields medical inquiries from aircraft in flight and ships at sea, said exit screening is difficult to do effectively in countries with poor medical care, because people are tempted to lie about their condition to reach better medical care elsewhere.

Quay Snyder, chief executive officer at Aviation Medicine Advisory Service, which advises airline unions on medical issues, said it was important to keep the West African outbreak in perspective. Ordinary influenza kills many thousands of people a year, and in light of that, U.S. government policies to protect the public from Ebola are “very reasonable,” he added.