Authorities acted after receiving a tipoff from a hospital that a woman on the flight, who had boarded originally in Uganda, could be infected with monkeypox, a rare and sometimes fatal disease mostly found in central and western Africa.
The emergency led to the captain making one of those in-flight announcements that no-one ever wants to hear: “There’s a possibility of a contagion on board.”
On landing, the plane was quarantined for three hours until the suspect woman, identified as Lise Sievers, 50, of Minnesota, was cleared. Passengers, terrified of catching a deadly illness, held their shirts over their faces. Monkeypox, an affliction related to smallpox, can be caught by eating monkeys, dormice, African squirrels or giant pouched rats, especially if undercooked. Once caught, it can be passed on to other people. Currently, there is no proven, safe treatment.
In this case, it turned out to be a false alarm. Sievers had developed a rash, apparently after an attack by bedbugs or other biting insects during her visit to Uganda, where she had gone to adopt two special-needs children.
While the aircraft refuelled in Detroit, Sievers phoned her mother and mentioned that one of the children she was trying to adopt had some pus-filled red bumps. She mentioned also that she had a rash of her own, which she suspected might have been caused by bedbugs biting her in Uganda.
Sievers’ mother phoned her local hospital to ask for advice, the SouthBend Tribune reported. The hospital heard a story involving Uganda, bedbugs, rash, pus and a woman on a flight. They immediately alerted the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) who had the plane surrounded on landing and placed under quarantine.
Photos were taken of Sievers’ rash and sent to the CDCP, where doctors and epidemiologists decided her problem wasn’t monkeypox. Her rash turned out instead to be scabies, known colloquially as the seven-year itch, a contagious skin infection caused by the tiny parasitic “itch mite” Sarcoptes scabiei, which burrows under the skin, causing intolerable itching. Scabies, while unpleasant, is easily treatable, so health authorities cleared the plane.
Now Sievers says that the incident may have saved her life. She suffers a rare blood disorder that causes bruises all over her body – and the scabies was making it worse. The doctor was able to catch the scabies in time to treat it, the paper reported.
Sievers plans to return to Uganda soon to adopt the two children. She has adopted 10 American children already and has two biological children of her own.
Sievers said that her fellow passengers reacted kindly when they realised she was the one suspected. However it’s not the sort of event that has passengers itching to catch another flight.
Written by : Peter Needham