Sky Harbor takes swine flu precautions - East Valley Tribune: News

Sky Harbor takes swine flu precautions

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Posted: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:40 pm | Updated: 1:12 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Air travelers continued to take their own precautions as they passed through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Tuesday following confirmations of more swine flu cases in the United States and around the world.

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Air travelers continued to take their own precautions as they passed through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Tuesday following confirmations of more swine flu cases in the United States and around the world.

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As AeroMexico flights arrived at Sky Harbor, numerous people wore masks as they passed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. The passengers voiced concerns about the flu situation in Mexico, where church services, sporting venues and other public events have been canceled.

There have been no reported cases of swine flu in Arizona. The swine flu has been confirmed in at least 64 cases in the United States. Mexico officials suspect swine flu in 152 deaths in recent weeks.

Arriving and departing passengers at Sky Harbor raised a variety of concerns Tuesday.

Adrian Hernandez, 28, a chef for AeroMexico who lives in Phoenix, was preparing to leave for Culiacan in the western state of Sinaloa to visit his wife for two weeks. He said he had two masks and sanitary napkins for the trip.

“It’s crazy there,” Hernandez said. “Nobody’s in the streets. I’m taking whatever precaution I can.”

Federal authorities at Sky Harbor and other ports of entry around the United States are vigilantly watching for travelers arriving who may show flulike symptoms, such as cough, high fever, sore throat or body aches, said U.S. Customs spokeswoman Bonnie Arellano.

If a traveler appears to be very ill, he or she may be questioned regarding their health and travel itinerary, she said.

“If it’s notable, you’re coughing and you appear sick, you’re emanating those signs we’re looking for, we’ll pull you aside, put a mask on you,” and ask questions regarding where a traveler has been and when, Arellano said.

Warren Eales, acting port director for U.S. Customs at Sky Harbor, told the Tribune on Tuesday that no passengers arriving in Phoenix or departing for Mexico had to be detained because of flu-like symptoms, and that people are heeding the advisories by not traveling to Mexico.

“So far, so good,” Eales said.

Eales also said he’s noticed the number of passengers traveling to Mexico have dropped by about 50 percent since customs agents have monitored people for flu-like symptoms since Friday.

However, a supervisor at the reservations counter for US Airways, said staff has not seen a decline in passengers departing for Mexico.

US Airways, which makes the most trips from Phoenix to Mexico, lifted some restrictions to change travel plans to Mexico.

“We haven’t had any flight cancellations to Mexico,” Valerie Wunder, spokeswoman for the airlines, said Tuesday. “We’re really just monitoring the situation. We are getting some calls about people wanting to change their flights, but we don’t have a number on how many that is.”

She said the airline is giving crew members gloves and hand sanitizer to use during beverage and meal service.

“We’re going above and beyond our normal cleaning procedures,” Wunder said. “We’re just trying to communicate with them and making sure they know what to do to stay health.”

Jorge Bautista, 35, wore a mask as he walked into the airport from Mexico City. He said he was concerned because three of his co-workers came down with the flu in his accounting office and that the 70 employees where he worked are required to wear masks.

“If people don’t need to go outside their homes, then they stay inside their home,” Bautista said. “We are trying to take precautions. We have never seen this situation in Mexico City. A lot of people are worried.”

Cheri Burke, a missionary who helps tribes in southern Mexico and lives near Prescott, flew in from Huatulco, Oaxaca. Burke said about 50 percent of the people at the airport in Mexico were wearing masks.

Burke was not wearing a mask because the flu had not spread to the area where she lived.

“The only thing that worries me is that I have meetings here, and don’t want to get sick and miss any of them,” Burke said.

Sky Harbor officials said they are prepared to distribute masks to all travelers if they are asked to do so by the U.S. Center of Disease Control.

U.S. officials advised Americans against most travel to Mexico on Monday as the swine flu virus that began there has stirred real concerns by spreading to the United States and beyond.

There are 18 daily flights from Phoenix to Mexico, deputy aviation director Deborah Ostreicher said during a press conference with Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon on Monday.

“The city of Phoenix for five years has been prepared for this type of contingency” should emergency steps be needed, Gordon said.

“We practice for this at the airport all year long,” Ostreicher said, adding that staff at the airport are “cleaning carefully” all the public areas.

Julie Rodriguez, spokeswoman for Sky Harbor, said Tuesday she had not noticed any changes in foot traffic in the last 24 hours.

“We won’t know how this affected international flights for another month or two,” she said, noting the airport gets its numbers from the various airlines there.

Local travelers are not the only ones taking health steps.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is taking precautions, especially in the county’s jails, which houses suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico and South America.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a press release that he will supply protective gear for deputies and jail detention officers and strongly recommend they use them when interacting with and arresting suspected illegal immigrants.

The jails will also screen all incoming inmates for the virus and isolate anyone suspected of being exposed.

The regular flu season — strain A and B — is already on the decline. The Arizona Department of Health Services has asked its first-line responders — those in doctor’s offices, hospitals and urgent cares — to refer any cases of strain A to it for further testing, said Laura Oxley, a DHS spokeswoman. Four flu cases that did not appear to be linked to the two previously known types of influenza A were sent to the CDC on Tuesday, Oxley said.

“We’ve been watching for things like that. We know influenza changes. We know there have been issues with flu epidemics and pandemics in the past,” Oxley said. “We’re prepared and have increased the surveillance and the communication with the doctors.”

Health officials are urging people to follow typical safety measures for the flu: Stay home if you feel ill or have a high fever or body aches. Frequent hand washing is recommended.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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