Indianapolis Airport Plans 'Airborne Infection Isolation Room'

The new terminal at Indianapolis International Airport will include a biohazard containment room where public health workers could isolate international travelers suspected of carrying contagious diseases.

Plans call for an "airborne infection isolation room" to be included in the design of the terminal, according to federal health and airport officials. The 800-square-foot room will be near federal customs and immigration operations. Slated for completion sometime in 2008, the glass-enclosed midfield terminal is the centerpiece of a $1 billion airport overhaul.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation's public health agency, does not have a room like that now in Indianapolis. The plan to add one marks an effort by the CDC to beef up preparedness in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, anthrax mailings and the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a virulent lung infection known as SARS that has spread from Asia.

The CDC plans to expand a network of fully staffed airport quarantine centers to about 25 from eight during the next several years, although that web will not include Indianapolis. Those centers involve larger, cliniclike offices in cities with more direct international flights than Indianapolis, said Dr. Ram Koppaka, an associate director in the division of quarantines and global migration at the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

"One of the advantages of designing and building an airport in the new century is including state-of-the-art features" to match the changing face of air travel, said Peter Beering, terrorism preparedness coordinator for the city of Indianapolis.

While the Indianapolis facility is not planned to be staffed, the CDC wants to have the room ready, he said, so it could be quickly staffed by local public health professionals and CDC staff deployed in case of a crisis.

Indianapolis lawyer Clifford Ong, the former director of Indiana's Counter-Terrorism and Security Council, an agency formed after the Sept. 11 attacks, called the planned isolation room a result of the clearer understanding today of public health threats and "a great example of the preplanning that all this awareness has created in us."

John J. Kish, the midfield airport project director, said planners already have sought to incorporate the isolation room into the new terminal's design.

"We're happy to set aside a modest amount of space for the CDC facility," he said.

The additional cities to have quarantine centers will be chosen based on the volume of international air and sea travel. Koppaka said Indianapolis does not have the level of international traffic to warrant a fully staffed quarantine station.

At present, ATA Airlines makes two scheduled flights each week to Cancun, Mexico, while ATA's Ambassadair Travel Club arranges private flights to locations around the world. Air Canada also has two daily flights to Toronto, though passengers on those flights clear customs in Canada.

Planes are sometimes diverted to Indianapolis from Chicago because of weather or other crises, Beering said. The isolation room would allow for health emergencies to be handled here.

Congress has approved funding to expand the airport quarantine system, including $10 million to add seven quarantine stations. Still, money has not been earmarked to pay for the Indianapolis isolation room. It is unclear how much the room will cost.

Federal funding has generally increased for public health initiatives since the Sept. 11 attacks.

In the two years before 9/11, the Indiana State Department of Health received about $300,000 from the CDC, said department spokesman Andy Zirkle. In the years since then, he said, the department has received about $63 million to track the spread of diseases and outbreaks; to train and add staff; and to expand computer systems.

"It is a two-fer," Ong said. "And we've overlooked this investment for years. SARS has really brought home how quickly these viruses can become international."