Ill passenger at LAX not at risk for Ebola, officials say

ByFrancine Rios and Amy Powell KABC logo
Monday, October 13, 2014
Ill passenger at LAX not at risk for Ebola
An ill passenger who was investigated at LAX was not at risk for Ebola, L.A. County health officials said Sunday.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- An ill passenger who was investigated at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday was not at risk for Ebola, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said.

The female passenger was aboard United Airlines Flight 703 out of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The passenger had been reportedly vomiting and exhibiting what were thought to be flu-like symptoms prior to landing. The flight landed at LAX around 2 p.m. and was diverted to a remote runway out of Ebola concerns.

Los Angeles Fire and public health officials arrived at the scene and determined the patient was not at risk for Ebola, and there was no risk of infection to the flight's passengers or crew, the health department said.

"You fear the worst," said Nicole Benedum, who was on the flight with her infant daughter. "She hasn't had all her shots. So, as a first-time mom, you know, I was weeping."

The woman chose not to be hospitalized after being assessed, fire officials said.

Officials said a misunderstanding about the passenger's recent travels to Africa, combined with the passenger apparently being airsick, prompted the concerns.

LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore said the passenger had recently been to the continent of Africa, but had not been to West Africa, where the Ebola virus is spreading. The passenger also has a history of being sick on flights, and her symptoms were consistent with motion sickness, Moore said.

"That's a big part of how powerful social media is," Moore said. "As soon as people start wondering what's going on, especially with Ebola being in the news as much as it is, it's very easy for people to be concerned."

The passenger will not be tested for Ebola, Moore said.

"The continent of Africa is enormous. To say that you've been to Africa and think just because you've been to the continent of Africa does not mean you've been anywhere near West Africa," Moore said.

The remaining passengers were released from the plane after two hours, officials said.

"You can't get mad at anybody for the situation," said passenger Penny Ray. "I'm just glad they were being cautious."

Officials said this incident shows that authorities are taking the threat of Ebola seriously.

"In the event we ever do actually have to do this for real, it just goes to show you that the system is in place," Moore said. "We have a system in place to be able to reassure people that we are taking this illness very seriously."

One health expert says airline passengers should not be too concerned because Ebola does not spread easily person to person.

"You need to have direct contact with the patients' body fluids to get this illness, so airports is not viewed as one of those places that is dangerous. It would be different if we were talking about measles or the flu," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief medical editor.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the passenger was assessed at the hospital. The passenger was assessed by health officials at the airport.