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Woman calls health scare on Delta flight a misunderstanding

Published April 27, 2012 10:35 am

Quarantine • 43 passengers aboard Delta flight detained after an adopted Ugangan boy developed sores.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Chicago • A Minnesota woman who caused a health scare aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Detroit — resulting in the plane being kept on the tarmac at Midway Airport for three hours — says it was all a misunderstanding over bug bites.

Lise Sievers of Red Wing was one of 43 passengers aboard Delta flight 3163 to Midway when it touched down and the captain announced the plane would be briefly quarantined. Men with surgical masks over their faces boarded the plane, and rumors flew as passengers tried to figure out what sort of contagion might be spreading through the cabin.

Sievers, 50, who was on the tail end of a 20-plus hour trip that began in Uganda, where she had spent more than three months trying to finalize the adoption of two special-needs children, wondered as well, said her son, Roger Sievers.

During a layover in Detroit, she had called her mother in LaPorte, Ind., and mentioned one of the children she was trying to adopt had broken out in pustules — small, pimple-like sores — during her visit, and that the boy had to be taken to the hospital in Uganda. Sievers also mentioned to her mother that she had suffered an unrelated case of itchy bites she believed had been inflicted by bedbugs.

While Sievers' flight was en route to Midway, her mother confused Sievers' bug bites and the boy's pustules, and called her local hospital to ask what she should do to prepare to treat her daughter's symptoms.

"Any time you mention you've been in a tropical country like Uganda and you've developed what sounds like an infectious disease, well, they call the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) right away," Roger Sievers said.

According to a news release from the CDC issued Thursday, authorities suspected she may have come down with monkey pox, a contagious disease that occurs mostly in western Africa that causes victims to break out in small, crusty bumps. Sievers, however, was as surprised as anyone when her plane was surrounded by ambulances and fire vehicles when it landed at Midway, her son said.

Aboard the plane, health crews took pictures of her rash. Experts determined they were bug bites and let Sievers and her fellow passengers off the plane. Sievers went to a hospital for additional tests — which turned up nothing, her son said — and was resting at a relative's house in Indiana on Thursday night.

Sievers will head back to Uganda in a month to finalize the adoption of the two children, the latest of more than 10 children she has adopted over more than 20 years, her son said.

The adoption process has dragged on so long, the extra few hours on the tarmac at Midway didn't seem to faze her, Roger Sievers said. Her fellow passengers were polite, even the ones seated close to her, he said.

"Everyone was just doing their job," he said. "This was a relatively small inconvenience compared to what she's been through the last few months."