Flight delayed because of tuberculosis scare - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Austin to Phoenix flight delayed because of tuberculosis scare

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We're learning new information about how a man, possibly infected with tuberculosis, was able to board a US Airways flight headed to Phoenix.

The man was placed on a do not fly list just minutes after he boarded the plane.

That passenger lives in Austin, Texas.  The county health department in Austin had been trying to reach him for days.  They'd left messages, asking him not to travel.  A nurse even went to his house on Thanksgiving, telling the person at the door that this man shouldn't travel.

Still on Saturday, he boarded a plane from Austin to Phoenix.  We're told he was headed out of the country on an international flight.

70 passengers were on that US Airways flight from Austin.  When they landed at Sky Harbor Airport, their plane was diverted to a special gate.

"A flight attendant came walking down the aisle from the cockpit area.. she had a mask in her hand and she walked up to this gentleman who had a window seat," said Dean Davidson, a passenger on the flight.  "She instructed him to put the mask on."

Davidson says that's when he realized the guy sitting a few rows ahead of him might be contagious.  Then a firefighter got on board and made an announcement.

"Somehow, a person who was placed on a no fly list has managed to get aboard and this person has active TB and we have been exposed," said Davidson.

Turns out, that patient is only suspected of having tuberculosis.  It's not confirmed.  Because the Austin County Health Department couldn't reach the man, they called the Centers for Disease Control on Saturday and he was placed on a do not board list.  That happened at 5:05 p.m., but the passenger was already in the air.

"What I'd like to really find out with someone with expertise is what really is the likelihood of any of us contracting TB from this 2.5 hour exposure," said Davidson.

"The risk of getting TB is very, very low.  They do not need to seek healthcare and if they get a cough, it's probably a cough or influenza," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine of the Maricopa County Health Department.

Sunenshine went to the airport to interview the passenger.  She talked to him for an hour and says he didn't cough.  Other passengers on the plane also say he wasn't coughing.

"Because this patient was not actively coughing, the chances of tuberculosis being spread are very,very low," said Sunenshine.

And the passenger with the suspected TB is being cared for at a hospital in Phoenix until his test results come in.

Again, doctors say initial test results showed suspected TB, but they need to wait for other tests to confirm it.

The CDC looks for three things before putting someone on the do not board list:

  1. Is the flyer contagious?  Or likely contagious with a serious communicable disease?  They're not flagging flyers with a cold or the flu.
  2. The flyer is unaware of their diagnosis or simply ignoring public health recommendations not to fly.
  3. Is there a good chance that person will be on a commercial or international flight?
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