Yesterday, officials raised concern that several passengers who flew from Algeria to Perpignan, France, may have been exposed to cholera through an 8-year-old child with active vomiting and diarrhea, according to a report from Reuters. Although cholera has been ruled out as a source of the child’s illness, the event emphasizes the importance of maintaining infectious disease prevention strategies while traveling.
According to a police source who spoke with Reuters, the child was hospitalized. Additionally, the child’s mother and several passengers who were seated close to the child during the flight were also hospitalized. Those who were not hospitalized were allowed to exit the plane after disinfecting their hands and were taken to a decontamination facility for examination.
A cholera epidemic has occurred in Algeria since mid-August, where 49 confirmed cases have been identified in five different provinces. Health Minister Mokhtar Hasbellaoul said in a press briefing on Sunday, Aug. 26, that the outbreak would be eradicated by Aug. 28. The Algeria Press Service stated that 129 patients were seen at the Boufarik Hospital with cholera symptoms.
“The situation, as presented by the experts, is under control and the prevention system will be maintained until the identification of the real causes of this epidemic and until no more suspect cases are recorded,” Hasbellaoul said during a press conference.
Algerian health officials have traced a major source of the cholera epidemic to the Beni Azza River.
Louise Ivers, MD, MPH, executive director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health, told Infectious Diseases in Children that travelers from an area where potable water and safely prepared and stored food is not readily available may become sick without being aware of their condition. Once they are traveling, they may become sicker. Cholera, according to Ivers, is a disease that can progress very quickly.
“Traveling while ill obviously can put other passengers at risk of exposure to any infectious disease, and cholera can cause profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting,” she said. “This is both dangerous for the patient and uncomfortable for passengers. However, it is unlikely that a patient with cholera on an airplane would transmit the infection to other passengers so long as they washed their hands and did not consume anything contaminated by the ill person.”
Ivers recommended that travelers should be reminded to practice handwashing as a general principle of infectious disease prevention.
“This is even more true on airlines and hubs of transit where many people are coming together,” she said. “Some of these people are going to be sick, either knowingly or unknowingly.” – by Katherine Bortz