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Airlines Know: Disinsection is NOT Disinfection

At the Aerospace Medical Association's Annual Meeting--this year in Las Vegas--aircraft disinfection to prevent the spread of infectious disease was a major topic of discussion. According to ICAO and the U.S. Government Accountability Office, little has been done to take precautions to prevent the spread of viral communicable diseases like Measles, Ebola, Norovirus and Influenza--diseases that are familiar to airline personnel, and frequent fliers. ICAO, WHO, FAA, CDC provide "guidance" or "recommendations" for infection prevention in the commercial aviation infrastructure, but no mandates, regulations or requirements.

True, most new aircrafts feature HEPA air filtration systems, which harness Ultraviolet-C light and other air purification strategies, to disinfect the cabin's recirculated air. Air filtration can only be effective on the microbes which circulate through the air, though. We all know germs have a nasty habit of landing and lingering on surfaces, which is why common sense gave us the famous "5-Second Rule".

Zika, Malaria, and West Nile, and Airplanes

To this point, you may have been reminded of folks coming onto your aircraft spraying the cabin before deplaning. Isn't this disinfecting? Unfortunately no. This internationally mandated process is called disinsecting--it uses aerosolized insecticide, "in order to protect public health, agriculture and the environment". A reduced risk to public health risk for mosquito-vectored blood-borne viral diseases like Zika, Malaria and West Nile may conceivably be a marketable side-benefit, but its primary, and sole objective is to eliminate invasive insect species from defiling domestic agriculture. Although it may kill insect-vector bloodborne disease-carrying mosquitoes, "some [human] individuals may experience transient discomfort following aircraft disinsection by aerosol application," so not in the interest of the immediate public's health.

In TSA security lines, redundant placards warn travelers about mosquito-vectored viruses at high risk destinations--advising travelers to avoid mosquito bites. "Don't let mosquitoes bite you," smart. Totally agree; my professional recommendation is to avoid being mosquito-bit. Generally, mosquito bites are not a sought-after experience and we each employ our own precautionary tactics to varying success--common sense.

International Infection Prevention

Thank you for reading our quick clarification between disinsection and disinfection. We'll keep it simple. In future posts, look for a deeper dive into the topic of infectious disease spread and airplane sanitation "best practices". Disinsection is mandated, but not in the interest of infection prevention.