"TB CASE SPURS PANIC"
Patient told not to fly, but did anyway - docs fear deadly bug may spread
NY DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, May 30th 2007, 12:18 PM
A man with a rare and lethal form of TB was coaxed into an isolation unit of Bellevue Hospital after triggering a transatlantic scramble for people he may have infected, officials said yesterday.
The tuberculosis patient was ordered locked up - and then transferred by a special plane to an Atlanta hospital - because he ignored federal no-fly orders and twice boarded packed jumbo jets for flights between Europe and North America.
It was the first time since 1963 that the feds have ordered a person quarantined.
The Georgia man, who has not been identified, is infected with a mysterious strain with the ominous designation .XDR-TB - which stands for extensively drug-resistant TB. There is no known cure, and about half the people who get the bug die from it.
The international alarm was raised yesterday by Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who went on TV to ask anyone who was on Air France Flight 385 from Atlanta to Paris on May 12 or Czech Air Flight 0104 from Prague to Montreal on May 24 to be tested for TB. Gerberding said it was not clear how contagious the man was during his travel.
"If there is a risk, these are the kind of trips that could pose a risk of transmission," she said.
The man was told not to travel in early May, after he was diagnosed.
He left for Europe anyway.
He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution yesterday that he went for his wedding and honeymoon.
CDC officials tracked him down in Rome and told him not to take a commercial flight home. Instead, they would send a plane for him so he would avoid contact with other passengers, Gerberding told National Public Radio.
"He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back," said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine.
The man, who asked the paper not to identify him, said he took the Prague-to-Montreal flight to avoid the CDC's no-fly restriction, but said, "I didn't want to put anyone at risk. We just wanted to come home and get treatment."
After arriving in Montreal, he drove across the U.S. border and within a day of reentering the country was persuaded to turn himself in at Bellevue.
Health officials stressed the man did not pose a threat to New Yorkers because he drove himself to the hospital and did not interact with anyone other than medical professionals.
"We have no information to suggest anyone in New York City is at any risk," said Andrew Tucker, a spokesman for the city Health Department.
At Bellevue, the man was isolated for three days in a "highly specialized" TB unit where doctors and nurses expert in handling TB cases watched him around the clock. He was eventually flown in a CDC plane to Atlanta, where he was put in isolation.
He will not be charged with a crime, despite ignoring the no-fly orders. "No laws were broken here. This is a very complicated situation," Gerberding said. But the man still said he was upset with the way his situation has been handled.
"I'm a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person," he said. "This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I've cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing."
XDR-TB is a strain of the bacterial infection that does not respond to typical first- and second-line antibiotics. It kills patients as often as half the time, said Dr. Bruce Polsky, chief of the infectious diseases division at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.
Some 49 cases have been reported in the U.S. since 1993.
"It's considered virtually untreatable," Polsky said.
But Gerberding said there are success stories.
"There are people who . . . survived and are considered to be disease-free," Gerberding said.
Two quotes above stand out:
"I'm a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person," he said...
"I didn't want to put anyone at risk. We just wanted to come home and get treatment."
Despite his claims of intelligence, his actions put everybody he flew with at risk. XDR TB is very dangerous despite the small chance of transmission. People with contagious diseases who claim they feel 'fine' are the most dangerous. Fortunately he didn't have something more virulent.
What he really meant to say (especially for the Montreal flight) was, "We wanted to come home so fuck all those other people on the flights we took."
Of course, almost seven years of functionally gutting important federal agencies like the CDC & FEMA by putting in layers of politial appointees (where competance takes a back seat to party loyalty) to run them hasn't helped either.