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Flight delayed because of tuberculosis scare

  • Article by: PAUL DAVENPORT
  • Associated Press
  • December 2, 2013 - 3:10 PM

PHOENIX — Authorities are trying to determine whether a man who flew into Phoenix has tuberculosis, but any risk to passengers on his flight is extremely low even if it turns out he does have the infectious respiratory illness, public health officials said Monday.

About 70 passengers on the US Airways Express flight on Saturday from Austin, Texas, were briefly kept on the plane until after responders boarded and removed the man, who was asked to put on a medical mask.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of the disease control division of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said the man is being tested to determine whether he has TB or any another illness.

Sunenshine said test results should be available within a week or so. The man is being tested at a hospital to speed up the process, not because of illness, she said.

Even if he has the disease, the short flight coupled with the fact that he wasn't coughing or sneezing on the plane means risk of transmission is extremely low, Sunenshine said.

During her own hour-long interview with the man, "he did not cough at all," Sunenshine said.

Sunenshine declined to provide details about the man but said he was put on no-fly status by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after the federal agency was contacted by health authorities in Texas.

Unfortunately the airline wasn't notified until the flight was in the air, Sunenshine said.

Though a responder who went on the plane reportedly suggested that passengers get tested for TB, Sunenshine and a CDC physician familiar with the case said the other passengers don't need to do anything.

The absence of coughing by the man made "it almost impossible to transmit TB to these passengers," Sunenshine said.

"There's really no risk in this situation," said Dr. Francisco Alvarado-Ramy, a supervisory medical officer assigned with the CDC's division of global migration and quarantine.

Along with the flight's duration and the absence of coughing, there are other medical indicators that point to "very low to no concern," Alvarado-Ramy said from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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