Spotlight On: Tuberculosis

This week, an US Airways Express flight from Austin to Phoenix made news when a passenger was pulled off the plane because he just got on a no-fly list. He had active tuberculosis infection.

Most people know about Tuberculosis from TB screenings (maybe you got it for school), called a PPD or Mantoux skin test: they have a small syringe and inject components of the TB bacteria barely under the skin. You’re told not to rub or touch or scratch it and come back in 2-3 days. If you get a swelling when you come back at that site, you get a chest x-ray.

What most people don’t know is TB is a “reportable illness.” What that means is that if you have it, the doctor must report your case to the public health department, which reports it to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. I think what happened is this passenger’s case finally got to the CDC and they just notified the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) while the passenger was on the flight. They reason for so much oversight is that this illness is contagious, especially in closed settings.

What is TB?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually affects the lungs and is spread through the air when people who have an active infection cough, sneeze or otherwise transmit respiratory fluids through the air.


From the OC Public Health website: disease can be treated by taking several drugs (antibiotics) for 6 to 12 months. It is very important that people who have TB disease finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If they stop taking the drugs too soon, they can become sick again; if they do not take the drugs correctly, the germs that are still alive may become resistant to those drugs. TB that is resistant to drugs is harder and more expensive to treat. In some situations, staff of the local health department meet regularly with patients who have TB to watch them take their medications. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT). DOT helps the patient complete treatment in the least amount of time.

Online Resources:


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