Travel and Your Health: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt

ORLANDO, FL, October 8, 2008 – A session held yesterday during NBAA’s 61st Annual Meeting & Convention on confronting air travel health issues provided guidance and information on the best way companies can prepare for health risks, prevent serious consequences and deal with episodes if and when they occur.

Dr. David Streitwieser, medical director of Tempe, AZ-based MedAire, an in-flight medical consultation service, offered guidance on how flightcrews can most effectively communicate with a telemedicine doctor when a health incident occurs.

“A telemedicine doctor is not going to be there with you,” said Streitwieser, “so you are going to have to answer questions to the best of your ability and do your own pushing, touching, testing, etc…to give that doctor the best information you can for them to diagnose the situation.”

When talking to the telemedicine physician, flightcrews should be prepared to provide the patient’s basic vital information: blood pressure, pulse, body temperature and oximetry (blood oxygen levels); their chief complaint; history of current illness; overall medical history; and results of any recent testing, such as a stress test.

How to Reduce Pilot Fatigue and Other Factors

Noted aircrew fatigue expert Dr. David Powell, chief medical officer for Air New Zealand, provided Attendees with specific guidance on treating pilot illness and fatigue, and noted that when pilots become ill with minor illnesses like a cold or flu, the need first and foremost to determine whether or not to fly. Powell recommended a pilot work with his doctor to determine how to safely treat his or her symptoms if they are going to fly.

In terms of major illnesses, Powell discussed how the most serious and potentially fatal illness for pilots is alcoholism and substance abuse. In eight out of ten fatal airliner crashes since the early 1990’s, substance abuse by the pilot was indicated. Powell recommended the effective HIMS program that the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have been successfully utilizing to detect and assist with substance abuse problems for decades.

One of the most dangerous challenges that pilots face is fatigue, and Powell laid out how certain contributors to fatigue can be reduced to minimize the threat.

“What can you control?” Powell asked. “Try starting your trips without prior sleep debt, and during your trip, get sleep whenever you can. Also, avoid alcohol, which compromises REM sleep, and caffeine, which keeps you awake and has diminishing returns over time.”

Health Risks for International Operators

As even small and medium-sized businesses expand their global reach, particularly supported by the use of business aviation, Dr. Neil Nerwich, group medical director for assistance with International SOS, gave an overview of international business aviation health threats, particularly as they relate to developing countries.

Nerwich outlined several steps businesses can take to prepare and prevent illness while traveling and how to effectively deal with a worst-case scenario, including pre-travel health consultations, assessing risk by determining where companies have assets (e.g., does a business have operations in Avian flu territories?) and determining evacuation protocols.

“Medical and security levels in developing countries are constantly evolving,” concluded Nerwich.“So the need for risk mitigation has never been greater. Businesses should ensure they perform thorough travel assessments and have access to support systems both during and after travel.”

The Association will make this session and several others available through its NBAA On-Demand Education Program. For more information on how to order, visit

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