Diseased-Traveler Threat Not Eliminated, Federal Report Warns
November 13, 2008
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report being released today blames several federal agencies for not stopping a man with drug-resistant tuberculosis from flying to Europe and back aboard commercial jets last year.
In May 2007, Atlanta attorney Andrew Speaker sparked an international health scare when he flew to Greece for his wedding, flew from Italy back to Canada, and was allowed to enter the United States when a border guard ignored an electronic alert. At the time, it was feared that Speaker was infected with the much more dangerous extensively drug-resistant TB; this was later found not to be the case. None of the more than 250 airline passengers tested had contracted TB as a result of the incident.
The 59-page GAO report faults the Department of Homeland Security and CDC, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, noting poor communication among the agencies, bad practices, and delays.
The report acknowledges that the agencies have improved procedures since the incident; however, it criticized them for not sharing enough information about these new practices. "Unless state and local health officials are informed and educated about the new tools and procedures, delays in accessing federal assistance, like those encountered could persist," the report says.
The GAO report calls on the agencies to look into implementing better background checks and health alerts at the borders; not doing so "may result in missed opportunities to locate persons subject to public health alerts."
The report includes the agencies' responses to its findings. Among improvements cited: A new system prevents border guards from over-riding public health alerts, and persons deemed public health threats are now identified to airlines on a "Do Not Board" list.
"There's no doubt there are many lessons to be learned from that incident," said CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner. "We're more prepared today."
11.13.2008; Craig Schneider
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.