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Flying with needles and meds can raise security flags

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By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

(HealthDay News) -- Adjusting to the necessary, but seemingly ever-changing security rules when traveling can be tough for anyone, but for someone traveling with a bagful of needles and vials of insulin or someone who's had a hip or knee replaced, the journey can be fraught with extra worry.

But Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the U.S. skies, says that travelers with chronic conditions need not be concerned.

Davis said that TSA officers are well-trained and familiar with the odd baggage or screening requirements that may come with certain medical conditions. What's most important, she noted, is that you let the screeners know what medical condition you have.

"We have screening procedures to make sure that everything and everyone is screened properly," Davis said. For example, she said, people with pacemakers or implanted cardiac defibrillators shouldn't go through the metal detectors, but if they notify the TSA officers, there are other ways for them to be screened.

Davis said that the TSA doesn't require a doctor's note verifying a medical condition, but that it doesn't hurt to have one. However, she said, it is recommended that people with pacemakers carry a pacemaker ID card that they can get from their doctors.

She also advised keeping drugs, particularly liquid medications, in the original packaging with the label that shows your name, if it's a prescription medication. But, she said, that's not a requirement, either.

The TSA recently launched what it's calling "self-select" lanes, including one for families with small children and people with medical issues. Davis said that this is the lane people should definitely be in if they need to carry with them liquids, such as insulin, that are exempt from the regulations restricting the amount that can be taken onboard.

In addition to insulin, people with insulin-dependent diabetes often must carry syringes, blood glucose meters or insulin pump supplies.

"Three or four years ago, insulin pumps and supplies might have been an issue at security, but these devices aren't so new anymore, and many more people are using them," said Dr. David Kendall, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association. "The biggest thing is for you to raise awareness that you have them in your bags."

One area that may still cause concern, though, is the operation of wireless insulin pumps or continuous glucose monitors onboard a plane. Though the devices are wireless, their transmission range is very short, probably just inches. But, Kendall said, the devices are new enough that the flight staff might not be familiar with them. In such cases, carrying a doctor's note explaining someone's need for the machine, or the operating manual that comes with the device, could be helpful.

"There's a need for education and raising of public awareness," Kendall said.

People who wear insulin pumps, prosthetic limbs, leg or body braces or orthopedic shoes do not have to remove them to go through screening. "Anything that would be a hardship for you to remove can stay," Davis said. "We have other methods of screening."

And though it's OK for people who've had joint replacement surgeries or cochlear [inner ear] implants to go through the metal detectors, Davis said that it's fine to ask security for a manual pat-down.

"It's important to know that our security officers are there to help," she said. "Be sure to let them know what the issues are and feel free to ask questions. If you're not satisfied, there are supervisors available at every checkpoint."

She said the TSA Web site has additional information about many specific medical conditions and disabilities, including how screening can be handled for that condition, or people can call the agency at 866-289-9673.

More Information

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has more about security policies for people with chronic medical conditions or disabilities.

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