US health officials are trying to track down 44 people who sat near a woman infected with a hard-to-treat form of tuberculosis aboard an airliner from India to determine whether they have been infected, authorities said on Friday.
The infected woman is 30- years-old and is being treated for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, or MDR TB, at a hospital in the San Francisco area, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She had been diagnosed in India with MDR TB but travelled last month anyway, the CDC said.
She travelled from New Delhi to Chicago on American Airlines Flight 293 on Dec 13, and then to California on a domestic flight, officials said. The CDC said the woman, who was not identified by name, sought hospital treatment for coughing up blood, fever and for chest pain.
The CDC said the facts of the case indicated "a potential for transmission of drug-resistant TB infection to others."
The case follows one last year in which a TB-infected Atlanta-area lawyer sparked an international health scare by flying to and from Europe for his wedding and honeymoon.
The CDC said health authorities in 18 US states and in India were trying to locate 44 fellow passengers aboard the flight from India to test them for possible infection. All sat within two rows of the woman or were crew members working in the same cabin.
"These persons should receive an initial evaluation and testing for TB infection, with follow-up 8 to 10 weeks after the December 13 flight for re-evaluation," the CDC said.
CDC spokeswoman Christine Pearson said, "It's too early to say whether there are any additional cases." The CDC did not say how many of the fellow passengers had been reached.
Authorities are not searching for passengers from the second flight because they say there is only a minimal chance of infection during a short-duration flight.
TB is a sometimes fatal bacterial infection usually attacking the lungs. Some forms are particularly dangerous because they resist treatment by antibiotics. MDR TB is a relatively rare type of the disease that is resistant to at least two of the first-line drugs for tuberculosis.