TB scare on flight from Austin


by KTRK, KVUE News, and Associated Press


Posted on December 2, 2013 at 9:12 AM

Updated Monday, Dec 2 at 2:47 PM

PHOENIX -- Dozens of people aboard a US Airways Express flight from Austin have been advised to get tuberculosis tests and vaccinations after a passenger was taken off the plane in a face mask.

Flight 2846 came in from Austin, landing at Sky Harbor International Airport just before 5 p.m. Saturday. More than 70 people were on board.

Passengers said they were not allowed to get off the plane right away. Rather, paramedics and police officers boarded, put a medical face mask on a man and then escorted him off the plane.

One of those first responders reportedly told the remaining passengers that they might want to get TB shots.

Passenger Dean Davidson described the ordeal saying, "As we were taxiing, a stewardess came down the aisle. She had a mask, and she instructed the gentleman to put a mask on...The fireman said, 'He has tuberculosis. He's contagious. You must see your physicians immediately, and you must be tested in three months time.'"

While US Airways officials confirmed that a passenger on the flight had a medical issue, they have not said what that condition is.

The Maricopa County, Arizona Public Health Department says they were notified of an "unconfirmed case of tuberculosis."

US Airways spokesman Bill McGlahsen says the airline was notified after the plane left Austin that the passenger's status had been changed to "no-fly" because of an unspecified medical condition.

Austin-area health officials say if the man did have tuberculosis, the risk of it spreading to the other passengers was very low.

TB, which most commonly attacks the lungs, is spread through the air -- when somebody with an active infection coughs of sneezes -- and is highly contagious.

Most infections are latent, which means they never progress to full-blown disease and cannot be passed along to others. Latent TB can become active TB, but that is not common.

If the disease does develop, however, it can be fatal if not treated. That treatment generally takes several months, in some cases up to two years.

Symptoms of active TB can be mild at first, and includes a cough that produces thick mucus that is sometimes bloody, fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, fever, rapid heartbeat and possibly swelling in the neck.

Like many infections, the chance of developing TB is higher in children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems.

A tuberculin skin test can determine if bacterial infection is present, but it does not differentiate between active and latent infections. It also cannot determine when infection occurred. If a skin test comes back positive, more tests, including a chest X-ray and lab work, are required.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TB was once the leading cause of death in the United States.