American Airlines India-to-U.S. Flight May Have Spread Tuberculosis

A woman infected with multidrug-resistent tuberculosis, or MDR TB, “traveled from New Delhi to Chicago on American Airlines Flight 293 on December 13, and then to California on a domestic flight,” say officials with the Centers for Disease Control. They’re now trying to locate 44 passengers who sat near the woman as well as crewmembers who worked in the same cabin.

The CDC isn’t looking for passengers who traveled on the shorter flight with her because the chance of infection on that flight is “minimal.” Have a nice weekend, all you hypochondriacs who flew domestic flights in California on December 13th!

We really wish people would realize that you don’t get to travel (at least not with strangers) if you’ve been diagnosed with MDR TB. Doctors should make patients watch the coughing-in-the-theater scene from “Outbreak” every time they diagnose someone with an infection like this.

“Tuberculosis exposure feared on India-to-U.S. flight” [Reuters]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. timmus says:

    One interesting thing missing from this whole spiel is the flight is a 15 hour nonstop flight. It’s got to be the next best thing to sharing a bed with the infected person.

  2. Skeptic says:

    …yes, especially given the low refresh rate the airlines use to save money (it takes energy to compress and heat fresh air from the outside…)

  3. DeleteThisAccount says:

    People suck. This is one of the downsides of living in a major transportation hub (Chicago).

  4. RvLeshrac says:

    There should be two options given to people with these hideous, contagious illnesses:

    1) Stop travelling, take time off of work, quarantine yourself to the house or a hospital.

    2) Euthanization.

    Sure, it seems extreme NOW, but wait until your husband/wife/best friend/parents/children are stuck on one of these flights with someone who has a deadly and highly contagious disease.

  5. goodkitty says:

    So… there’s no problem flying if you have regular tuberculosis, avian flu, or just a nicely contagious cold? How about airlines pass out surgical masks to people with illness to help… oh wait, that might cost a few cents per plane. Let the health insurance companies pay $80,000 for treatment per person instead.

  6. ceriphim says:

    Welp, the people on the 15-hour flight are pretty much f**ked. Hello MDR TB pandemic…

  7. humphrmi says:

    This is scary, I took AA293 about a year ago. Yeah, OK, not that scary, but still… weird…

  8. RvLeshrac says:

    @goodkitty:

    They’re treatable. People with “regular” TB are typically placed under the same restrictions, though. People with Avian Flu are placed under a full quarantine.

    Cold and regular influenza? Doesn’t matter, you’re just as likely to get it from someone at the mall.

  9. Parting says:

    Only people with weak immune systems are in danger from regular tuberculosis.

    The worst could be an antibiotic resistant tuberculosis. This could kill easily.

  10. RvLeshrac says:

    @chouchou:

    A lot of people have weak immune systems. Thank all of the antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers, and other keeping-us-all-way-too-clean products.

  11. forgottenpassword says:

    yeah, nothing like sharing a flight with someone & getting a contagious disease that changes your life forever…. or even KILLS you!

    I understand that they can jail people who repeatedly disobey doctors order & expose people to their dangerous diseases.

    I think anyone with MDR TB should be FORCED to wear a filtering mask over their mouth & nose ANYTIME they are in public (and be checked up on routinely to make sure they are doing it).

  12. TechnoDestructo says:

    @ceriphim:

    Settle down. The entire state of Alaska has been a cesspool of TB for decades.

  13. luz says:

    I think everyone with AIDS should be FORCED to have a giant red “A” tattooed on their foreheads! Wait, no I don’t, that’s messed up.

    Two-way street, people. I agree that flying when you know you have a contagious, potentially lethal disease is unethical, and I understand that many people “have to” fly for work or whatever, but nobody’s forcing you onto the plane at gunpoint. If you’re all that concerned, you wear the breath mask (hello Tokyo!)

  14. ceriphim says:

    @TechnoDestructo: What, all 243 people? I don’t think that counts as a cesspool.

  15. TechnoDestructo says:

    @ceriphim: More like a thousand times that, if you subtract out the municipalities large enough to have meaningful tuberculosis control programs. Fortunately for you all, most rural Alaska Natives never leave the state. But a lot of the “urban” Alaskans who pick up TB in the bush do.

    Contemplate that the next time you take a flight into or out of Sea-Tac.

  16. poodlepoodle says:

    Oh for goodness sake. It’s pretty hard to get TB and even if you’re exposed to it and contract it chances are your body will suppress it and you’ll never know anything happened. TB is a problem if your immune system is suppressed (cancer, HIV, etc). This is why it is such a problem in India and Africa there are large swaths of population that are malnourished, have HIV, or malaria. It is very difficult for a healthy westerner to contract TB.

  17. BearTack says:

    TB is so incommunicable that it is practically classified as a sexually transmitted disease. RARELY, an individual will get become infected with the bacillus through casual contact. Even then, as PoodlePoodle noted, the infection is usually walled off by the body without developing into active disease.

    But, TB was a great scourge in the US prior to the 1900′s. One sixth of the nation had TB. Until AIDS became widespread, TB was the number one infection killer in the world. Without aggressive Public Health control methods the “White Plague” could return.

  18. ExecutorElassus says:

    Forget TB… is that Agent Scully on the plane? Wasn’t there some X-Files about people with killer super-diseases, that could only be explained by alien abductions? Weren’t there several episodes like that?

    See, if we weren’t listening to Agent Scully, we would be chasing after the aliens who gave this poor woman the anal probe that REALLY gave her MDR TB. Somehow the Cancer Man would be involved.

    Man, I loved that show soooo hard.

  19. 5cents says:

    @Skeptic: cabin air generally comes from engine bleed. heating need not be necessary, nor the degree of compression you are talking about. cabin atmosphere is generally set by the plane specs, not the airline.

    @poodlepoodle: Incorrect. Large swathes of the population are not HIV positive or with malaria though a significant portion are malnourished (children mostly). It is not significantly harder for a “westerner” to contract TB given the same impetus. I suspect the opposite may indeed be true given Asian immune systems are more adept at fighting diseases on their own.

  20. kaushalmodi says:

    @5cents: I second you. Indians are more immune to diseases. I am an example. I came to study to US 2.5 years back. When I went back to India a year back, my body had gotten rid of all the antibodies and contracted minor digestive problems possibly due to water/food. That never happened in 19 years I lived in India.

  21. kimsama says:

    @5cents: Actually, the people with the evolutionary advantage in fighting TB are Ashkenazi Jews — they have a high level of Tay-Sachs, which makes you immune to TB. (Although anyone who’s a carrier for the T-S gene is immune, it’s most concentrated in Europe).

  22. kimsama says:

    @kaushalmodi: That just happens because your gut flora has a high “turnover” rate — if you live somewhere for a couple of years, your gut adapts to the bacteria in the new environment. You effectively got re-dosed with Indian bacteria when you returned, which your gut hadn’t dealt with for a few years and it caused gastrointestinal issues, i.e. Montezuma’s Revenge.

    In the U.S. there’s less bacteria in the water (haha, unless you live in the country, and you get fun stuff like cryptosporidiosis and giardia), however, when an American moves to a developing country, their gut flora adapts after a while, too. It’s not just people in developing countries like India, it’s everyone.

  23. ceriphim says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Well ****. That’s tomorrow.

  24. parabola101 says:

    maybe it’s time for airlines to improve air quality during flights?

  25. Bruce Bayliss says:

    This is a story?
    The same thing happened with SARS and it’ll happen with any infectious disease.
    It happens in subways, buses and all forms of public transportation all over the world.
    I believe it’s categorised as a residual risk of life…

  26. deVious says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Born and raised in Alaska. Never heard of a TB problem. Is it only a village thing?

  27. Javert says:

    @luz: No this is not a 2 way street. If you have a contagious disease you don’t put the rest of us at risk. You stay home. Suck it up.

    Life is tough, wear a helmet.

  28. VG10 says:

    If this woman knew she had TB, she should be arrested for attempted murder. She knew what she was doing and should go to prison for endangering the lives of all of those people.

  29. 5cents says:

    @kimsama: informed.

  30. Rusted says:

    @kimsama: I spent my first nine years in the Middle East way back before they started shooting at everybody. So fast forward a few decades,… I spend two weeks twice in Mexico. Ate the food, drank the water and no “revenge”. Think that some of that stays with us.

  31. neithernor says:

    @luz: When you get on a plane, you are not forced to have unprotected sex with the people next to you for 15 hours.

  32. RvLeshrac says:

    @neithernor:

    Fun ’til you get the blood test, though!

    No, wait… I’ve seen the people on airplanes…