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TB and travel: What the experts say

Frequent air travelers got a scare last month when news reports revealed that an Atlanta man with a case of "extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis," or XDR TB, traveled to and from Europe, including slipping past a roadblock set up expressly for him at the Canadian border.

To stem public concern about the issue, both the Geneva-based World Health Organization and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released facts about TB and air travel.


The agencies agree that the TB-infected passengers on flights of 8 hours and longer pose a greater threat to their fellow passengers than those on shorter flights.

Last week, the CDC stressed these points to the media:

  • Only a person with active TB disease can spread TB bacteria to others.
  • Persons who have spent prolonged time with someone with active TB disease should get tested for TB infection. It usually takes prolonged exposure to someone with active TB disease for someone to become infected.
  • After exposure, it usually takes 8 to 10 weeks before the TB test would show if someone had become infected.
  • A person with a positive test for TB infection (i.e., latent TB infection) is not sick and cannot spread TB germs to others. However, some of these persons can go on to develop TB disease, especially if their immune system is weak--for example, HIV-infected persons, persons with diabetes, or persons undergoing treatment for certain forms of cancer.
Also last week, WHO released an updated booklet on prevention and control of TB during air travel. To download the publication, click here.

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