Iowa Public Television


CDC and Airlines Butt Heads Over Bird Flu

posted on May 5, 2006

In preparation for a possible U.S. avian flu pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling for a new information database.

The CDC hopes to collect personal information about domestic and international air travelers. Federal health officials claim a database would allow users to easily monitor and recommend treatment for airline passengers. Under the plan, airlines would have to keep data for 60 days and transmit it to the CDC within 12 hours.

"There's just a number of conditions where acting quickly with electronic access to passenger information is going to make a lot of difference," said Marty Cetron, the director of global migration and quarantine for the CDC.

But the airline industry is slow to embrace a potential traveler database. The Air Transport Association claims a list of passengers would put a financial strain on an already cash-strapped industry. One ATA lawyer said the plan represents technology difficulties and time constraints as well.

The CDC plan comes at a time when a top bird flu scientist claims the H5N1 virus will not reach the United States this year.

Robert Webster, a scientist from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, said the number of times viruses have reached the Americas from Europe is infrequent. But Webster cautioned that an appearance of avian flu is only a matter of time.

"If it doesn't come this year, don't relax, because it will come eventually," Webster said.

Tags: airplanes airports animals birds diseases influenza news travel