Global Health Scare

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The man being held in isolation in an Atlanta hospital with a rare form of tuberculosis said he took an ill-advised trans-Atlantic flight because he did not want to postpone his wedding.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that the patient said officials told him they preferred he not fly, but did not order him to stay home.

The search is on in the United States, Canada and overseas for international travelers who may have come into contact with the man, who flew between Europe and North America while carrying a dangerous form of tuberculosis, putting other passengers at risk for contracting this infectious disease.

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The patient is currently in isolation at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, and officials said he has an extremely drug-resistant form of TB.

The unidentified man flew out of the country earlier this month, apparently just a day after local health officials advised him not to take his planned trip.

"In this case, the person decided his personal agenda was highly relevant to him, and he made the decision to travel," said Dr. Julie Gerberding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The infected man left Atlanta May 12, on Air France flight 385 bound for Paris. Twelve days later, on May 24, he boarded Czech Air Flight 0104 from Prague to Montreal, and then drove across the border to the United States.

Officials caught up with the man in New York City, where he voluntarily entered a hospital, and a CDC plane brought him to Atlanta.

Exposed Travelers

Health officials on two continents are now frantically trying to determine just who else was on the two flights. Both jets were wide bodies — which hold hundreds of passengers who could have been exposed to the disease, with the biggest fear being for the health of those seated near the infected individual.

What is so troubling to many is the ease with which someone with an infectious disease can travel the globe.

"We are integrated with what is happening around the world. We are not in an isolated circumstance, so we need to maintain our public health vigilance and capacity," said Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University.

Another health expert said the public health system isn't equipped to deal effectively with cases like this one.

"Doctors don't have the right tools to make a quick diagnosis of drug resistant TB, or, for that matter, bird flu virus or SARS or Anthrax," said Dr. Thomas Inglesby at the Center for Bio Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "This is a fixable problem and we should fix it."

Officials say this TB patient will remain in isolation in the hospital for treatment until they determine he is no longer infectious.

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