Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they have traced the source of a recent Hepatitis A exposure on an American Airlines flight back to one of the flight attendants onboard. The incident took place on September 21 on an American Airlines service between San Francisco and Charlotte, although the CDC has declined to say what other flights the flight attendant had recently worked.
In a press release, the CDC said the flight attendant “had diarrhea on several flights within the infectious period” but that all passengers and crew on those flights had already been contacted by the authorities. Health officials in Mecklenburg County said 18 local Charlotte residents had been vaccinated against Hepatitis A since the flight.
Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection which can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to severe sickness that can drag on for months. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms, as are diarrhea, fever and fatigue, along with joint pain and even jaundice according to the CDC.
Most cases are spread when someone unknowingly ingests food or drink that has been contaminated with the virus – normally from faecal matter from an infected person. While the CDC hasn’t confirmed this as the way in which passengers onboard the American Airlines flight were exposed, it remains a very real possibility.
One recent British study found faecal matter in 70 per cent of iced coffee shop drinks at one particular chain. Other studies have found unnervingly high levels of faecal matter across a number of surfaces within an aircraft cabin – including tray tables and seatback pockets.
The incubation period of Hepatitis A can range from 28-days all the way up to 50-days and worryingly, the infectious period can start two weeks before an infected person suffers any symptoms. Someone can remain infectious up to a week after they’ve stopped feeling any symptoms.
In a statement, American Airlines told several US news outlets that it was working closely with the CDC and would comply with any measures to protect the health and safety of its passengers and crew. American has declined to comment on the flight attendant caught up in this incident.