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XDR-TB patient causes furore

4th June 2007

US officials are concerned that a man infected with an extensively drug-resistant form of tuberculosis (XDR-TB) may have transmitted the disease to fellow passengers on two international flights he took.

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The infected man travelled from Atlanta to Paris on May 12, on Air France flight 385. He returned to the North America on CSA flight 104 from Prague to Montreal on Mayn 24 and continued his journey by car.

The man, who was diagnosed with XDR-TB while on honeymoon in Italy, was detained under a federal quarantine order, the first issued by the US authorities in 44 years.

That order has since been lifted, although the man is still detained under the aegis of local public health restrictions in Denver, Colorado.

"The patient is currently considered infectious based on three respiratory tract specimens that were reported culture positive for extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement on its website.

"Since the order by local public health authorities puts in place measures that are sufficient to protect the public's health, the federal isolation order that has been used to ensure the patient remains in medical isolation is no longer in place," it said.

CDC said it would continue to provide input and consultation, however. And it said it would investigate a link with one of its own employees, the man's father-in-law.

US officials have recommended that crew and passengers on the same flights as the man be checked.

The man told US media he knew he had a TB infection, but not that it was the deadly XDR-TB form of the bacteria.

TB, a bacterial infection which usually affects the lungs and can cause chest pain and coughing up blood, killed around 1.6 million people a year in 2005, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While US doctors currently only see 4.6 cases of TB per 100,000 people, WHO has warned of the potential spread of drug-resistant forms of the disease.

Only a person with active TB can spread the TB bacteria to others, and usually prolonged exposure to someone with active TB is needed for a person to become infected. The bacteria spreads through the air.

A period of 8-10 weeks is needed for the disease to show up in tests.

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