Monkeypox Update #1

As you are all undoubtedly aware by now, there is currently an ongoing global outbreak of the Monkeypox virus.

What is Monkeypox?
Monkeypox is a disease from the same group that includes the better-known smallpox, which was eradicated in 1978.

Although both viruses are related, the mortality rates associated with monkeypox are generally lower than smallpox.

According to the Federal government, a person can contract monkeypox when they come into close contact with:

  • an infected animal
  • an infected human via respiratory droplets (possibly aerosols) and exposure to lesions that develop.
  • materials contaminated with the virus

The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract, or via mucous membranes.

Transmission can occur by direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions, non-intact skin or scabs, indirect contact with clothing or linens used by an infected person, or close contact with the respiratory tract secretions of an individual with monkeypox.

For further information about monkeypox, please consult Global Affairs Canada’s page which includes links to various agencies including the World Health Organization’s fact sheet on the virus:

https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/travel-health-notices/229

What can you do to protect yourself?
We find ourselves in an interesting situation because many of the protections for monkeypox are already available and familiar due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, the Federal government recommends healthcare settings should implement droplet and contact precautions, in addition to airborne precautions until more information about the potential for aerosol transmission is known.  There have been no recommendations for flight attendants or working onboard an aircraft.  CUPE continues to strongly recommend we follow the precautionary principle and encourage members to avail themselves of the personal protective equipment currently available.

Therefore, when at work (aircraft, airport, transportation and layovers) we advise:

  • avoiding direct personal contact
  • continuing to use respiratory protection like N95 respirators or their equivalent, or double masking (cloth over surgical) to provide protection.
  • The use of gloves whenever you may come into contact with service items contaminated by secretions, or which could have contacted skin lesions (ex. Pickup). Gloves are also important when engaging in any activities like first aid which may require skin-skin contact should also be employed.

On a layover, respiratory protection remains important as does avoiding crowded venues, and practicing physical distancing whenever possible. Concerns about your room (ex. bed linens) should be addressed with the hotel and reported to your company to conduct a follow-up.

In summary:
As much as we are all fed up with things like masking, physical distancing and hand washing, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that even in brighter times a virus can pop up with little warning. We’re seeing that now with Monkeypox just like we have in the past with SARS and Ebola. Having the correct tools available to protect ourselves and following preventative practices presents the best chance of stopping the spread and avoiding the kind of experiences we have been enduring since 2020.

Currently, the Union urges workers to speak up by reporting to their employer things like shortages or unavailability of PPE like gloves, masks and respirators. We also urge employers to ensure that they remain nimble and prepared to respond to future diseases, like Monkeypox, by consistently having supplies of appropriate PPE available for the crew.

In solidarity,

Your Air Canada Component of CUPE Health and Safety Committee