The recent case of an Atlanta man diagnosed with extensively drug-resistant form of tuberculosis has led to an unusual infectious disease-fighting tactic: a federal isolation order.
After the man, identified as attorney Andrew Speaker, 31, re-entered the United States following a vacation overseas, U.S. health officials placed him into isolation. Officials used the tactic because they were concerned the man would spread the disease, known as XDR-TB, to people he came in contact with.
In a May 29 news briefing, Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acknowledged that the isolation order was "unusual," noting that "we always want to balance personal liberties with the requirement to protect people's health."
"But in this situation, a precocious organism is so potentially serious and could cause such serious harm to people, especially those that have other medical conditions that would reduce their immunity, we felt that it was our responsibility to err on the side of abundant caution and issue the isolation order to assure that we were doing everything possible to protect people's health in avoiding any additional potential for exposure," Gerberding said.
CDC is working to locate and test passengers who may have flown on flights with Speaker, who was notified that he had XDR-TB while in Rome and decided to return to the United States against the request of U.S. health officials. (Read Washington Post and Atlanta Journal Constitution stories)
XDR-TB is a growing concern for public health officials worldwide because it resists nearly all drugs and can be spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. XDR-TB is particularly dangerous to people who are HIV-positive or have other conditions that weaken the immune system. While there are about 13,000 cases of the more common, treatable forms of tuberculosis reported in the United States, so far XDR-TB cases are rare in this country.
For more on XDR-TB, visit CDC’s Web site.