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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Fliers Warned About Tuberculosis

CDC Tells Passengers on Flights With Drug-Resistant-Tuberculosis Patient to Get Tested
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Passengers' Risk

"Passengers most likely to be at risk would be the passengers who were seated in seats immediately close to the patient," Gerberding says.

She notes that the man's tuberculosis didn't appear to be highly contagious. "In fact, the medical evidence would suggest that his potential for transmission would be on the low side, but we know it isn't zero," Gerberding says.

"We also want to reassure people who weren't on these flights that their risk of exposure on a random air flight is extremely low, and we're not concerned about a generic threat to travelers," Gerberding says.

Patient's Case

Before leaving the U.S., the patient knew he had tuberculosis and, like all tuberculosis patients, had been advised not to travel, according to Gerberding.

But he didn't know his tuberculosis was extremely resistant to drugs, and he felt he had a "compelling reason" to travel, says Gerberding, who declined to elaborate on the patient's reason for traveling.

Gerberding says the CDC didn't know that the man had XDR TB until after he left the U.S.

His departure surprised the CDC but wasn't illegal, says Gerberding. "From our perspective, no laws were broken here," she says.

It's not yet clear how or where the man contracted tuberculosis, Gerberding notes.

About XDR TB

Since 1993, the CDC has gotten reports of 49 people in the U.S. who have had XDR TB.

"Unfortunately, that's not true in many other parts of the world, so many people who have XDR TB do not survive their infection," Gerberding told reporters today.

"That's part of the reason why we're taking this situation so seriously and why we took this unusual step of issuing a federal isolation order in an effort to curtail any additional possibility of exposure to passengers or others that were potentially in harm's way," says Gerberding.

In March, Gerberding told a congressional subcommittee that XDR TB has been found in 17 countries from all regions of the world, most frequently in the former Soviet Union and Asia.

  • What health precautions do you take when you fly? Share your ideas on WebMD's message boards.

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