Feb. 16, 2016

As the mosquito-borne Zika virus spreads worldwide, some health and aviation authorities have begun targeting business aircraft to be treated with insecticide – similar to requirements that have been in place for commercial aircraft arriving from certain points of origin.

The most prominent to date is Italy, which has reported several recent cases of the Zika virus affecting people who returned from trips to South America and the Caribbean. A “Certificate of Residual Disinsection” is now required for all aircraft operating in Italy. Residual disinsection, according to the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), involves spraying the internal surfaces of the passenger cabin, cockpit and cargo hold (excluding food preparation areas) following recommended WHO and International Civil Aviation Organization Annex 9 procedures.

Laura Everington, senior manager of government and industry affairs for Universal Weather and Aviation, said Italian health officials are requiring the original certificate of disinsection regardless of the flight’s origin.

“Disinsection can be performed at any airport of origin,” said Everington. “If the certificate is not on board, the process can be completed upon arrival in Italy.” There is a charge for the disinsection and another charge from Italian authorities to issue the certificate.

Italy had originally limited the certificate requirement to aircraft arriving from Zika-affected countries, but “within 36 hours that changed” to all countries, said Everington.

Authorities in Costa Rica are requiring that aircraft arriving from affected countries be sprayed on arrival – with crew, passengers and luggage aboard – with an insecticide provided by the local agriculture department. Costa Rica is also requiring all passengers to fill out a health declaration form, which will be provided by ground handlers on arrival.

In Shanghai, China, according to Universal’s local ground-handling sources, a quarantine examination is completed upon arrival for aircraft operating from countries affected by the Zika virus, though specific documentation is not required. However, any crew or passengers traveling to China who have any symptoms of the virus must report this in advance.

In Russia, passengers arriving from Zika-affected countries will be “closely monitored” on arrival, which generally means a remote temperature check with thermal imaging cameras, according to Universal.

Australia and New Zealand have had a standing policy on disinsection for arriving flights, including business aircraft, for several years.

“The disease itself is not a very serious one; symptoms are mild,” said Dr. Paulo Alves, global medical director of aviation health at MedAire. People with the Zika virus disease usually have a low fever, rash and conjunctivitis; and symptoms normally last for two to seven days. Up to 80 percent of infected individuals experience no symptoms.

“The international public health concern is the possible risk of congenital brain malformation (microcephaly) in newborn children of women exposed to Zika during their pregnancy,” said Alves. “At this point, officials are not recommending against travel to the affected areas, but there is a caveat for pregnant women or women who are planning to get pregnant to postpone travel.”

The WHO claims the insecticides are not a danger to crew and passengers at the recommended levels: “Some individuals may experience transient discomfort following aircraft disinsection by aerosol application.” Asthma sufferers may be especially sensitive to the spray.

View the WHO’s information on the Zika virus.