Thursday, May 31, 2007
TB: bigger questions raised
As I have been covering the story of tuberculosis, specifically XDR - TB, several things have occurred to me. So, I thought I would just muse for a few lines and get a sense of what you are thinking as well.
I think, after looking at the science and talking to most people involved, the likelihood of anyone getting infected is incredibly small. Even the TB patient's wife, who was just on a honeymoon with him, has tested negative so far. That's the good news. The bad news is that a lot of people on those flights have been incredibly confused, and a little angry. I spoke to a few of them this morning.
First off, they were first contacted by CNN, not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - even though they had sat in the same exact row as the infected man. They were tested after seeing news reports on television. One man was immediately placed into a temporary quarantine and asked to wear a mask at his local hospital. The doctors had no idea how to deal with this problem. Many others who were not in the nearby two rows were told to get tested only if they were concerned. Well, what does that mean? Shouldn't everyone be concerned?
Now, the latest CDC advisory simply says everyone who flew on those planes should get tested. That's the confusing part. The anger part: the passengers seemed to think that this infected man was not malicious or out to hurt anyone in particular, but that he was selfish and unnecessarily put many people at risk and created anxiety and worry.
More than anything, I think this one case reflects deeper failings in our public health system. What if there were ten cases, instead of just the one? What if it were smallpox or a bioterrorism attack? Are we ready?
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