Thursday, April 05, 2007
Imprisoned for illness
Here's an interesting dilemma: A young man in Arizona has recently been placed in solitary confinement. He has been there for eight months and there is a good chance he will be there for the rest of his life. It is a punishment usually reserved for the very worst criminals. But Robert Daniels has not been charged with any crime. However, some say what he did was criminally negligent.
Robert has what is known as XDR TB - extremely drug resistant tuberculosis. Both the first line and second line of treatments simply don't work for him. The organism causing his infection has become too smart, easily dodging attacks from antibiotics. Add to that another problem: XDR TB is very, very contagious and Robert Daniels ignored doctor's warnings to wear a mask. And, that is where his crime may lie. Not wearing a mask, walking into public places and possibly putting many others at risk. You see, TB is spread through the air when someone who has the disease sneezes, coughs or even talks.
XDR TB is extremely rare - there have been only around 50 cases in the last 15 years here in the United States. It is more common in Africa and Asia and often accompanies HIV and other immune-compromised states.
So, how should Robert Daniels be treated? Should he be locked away for the rest of his probably-shortened life for not wearing a mask? Or, is there some sort of compromise? Also, this is just one man, but what does this say about how our country could deal with an outbreak with millions of people contracting a contagious disease such as SARS or smallpox?
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