Cathay Pacific details company response to atypical pneumonia
09 Apr 2003
Cathay Pacific Airways' response to the outbreak of atypical pneumonia has from the outset included a company-wide health education campaign, increased passenger screening, a heightened hygiene programme at airline facilities and on board all aircraft and special personnel policies aimed at protecting the health and well-being of all staff.
The airline, immediately following news of the outbreak of the disease, issued a travel health alert, which was posted at check-in counters across its network. It urges passengers to seek medical assessment should they feel feverish, have a dry cough or show other symptoms associated with the disease. They are asked to defer travel until after their symptoms have resolved. Public health announcements are also being made at the airline's boarding gates.
As the most important step is preventing sick passengers from boarding our flights, front-line staff have been reminded to remain alert at check-in counters, boarding gates and even on the aircraft before each flight departs for any passenger who appears ill, and to refer them for medical assessment or medical clearance prior to flying.
When in flight, fresh air continuously flows into the aircraft cabin. The entire cabin air volume is exchanged every three to five minutes. During that cycle, half of the cabin air volume passes through a set of special high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters.
All Cathay Pacific aircraft are fitted with HEPA filters, which are also used in hospital operating theatres. Research conducted by US aircraft manufacturer Boeing confirms that such filters capture "more than 99.9 percent" of airborne contaminants, bacteria and larger virus particles.
Smaller viruses generally travel in larger respiratory droplets and these are generally captured by the filters as well. The dry air in aircraft cabins is inhospitable to germs, as most thrive in a moist environment. In the aircraft's dry atmosphere most airborne droplets also quickly evaporate.
Cabin crew have been advised on the proper procedures to handle a passenger who shows signs of illness during a flight. This includes providing a facemask for them, isolating them in an area at the back of the aircraft, away from other passengers and assigning a dedicated toilet for their use. Crew in-flight can consult with doctors on the ground through Medlink, a 24-hour aeromedical service provider contracted by Cathay Pacific.
Surgical facemasks have been issued to all staff and are available to passengers and crew on all flights if they wish to use them.
Actual aircraft cleaning procedures follow guidelines issued by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Hong Kong Department of Health (DoH), as well as those issued by the aircraft manufacturers. Interior surfaces including galley counters, passenger tray tables, seat armrests, seatbacks, light and panel controls, adjacent walls and windows, toilet counters and other common areas are cleaned with disinfectant following each stop.
Aircraft undergo a more thorough sanitation procedure on a weekly basis and in a regularly scheduled "Super Clean". Aircraft are thoroughly disinfected if it is suspected that a sick passenger has flown on board.
Cleaning and sanitation efforts have been stepped up in public areas at the airline's facilities and office buildings. The office ventilation system has been adjusted to allow for the maximum allowable fresh air into the building. The number of casual outside visitors to Cathay City has been curtailed.
All staff have been instructed to pay special attention to personal hygiene and regularly wash their hands. The crew hotel has stepped up house-cleaning efforts and has made the property off-limits to staff staying for non-business related purposes.
Cathay Pacific staff receive periodic health updates on the company's internal Web site posted by the Medical Services Manager, and a special staff email account has been opened to address individual concerns. The company has also initiated a special programme for staff who are pregnant or have chronic medical conditions allowing them to either work from home, take unpaid leave or take paid annual leave. In addition, the company has also implemented a special sick leave programme whereby staff are paid if they are advised to be quarantined at home, for up to 11 days, if they have been exposed to a family member or a close contact confirmed with atypical pneumonia.
Cathay Pacific Medical Services Manager Dr Rose Ong said: "We take the situation very seriously indeed and continue to monitor developments. Where appropriate we are implementing a wide range of preventive health measures company-wide. To date, no Cathay Pacific crew member or front-line customer service employee has contracted atypical pneumonia in the course of their employment."
Dr Ong added: "Based on current information, the majority of transmissions occur in person to person close contact setting through respiratory droplets. The high-risk groups include healthcare workers, caregivers, intimate friends and family members of infected individuals. Environmental factors are being looked at as other possible transmission routes; however, the virus does not appear to be airborne. We continue to monitor the evolving scientific data concerning the virus and will adjust our policies and procedures in light of this advice."