Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A new strain of an ancient disease may be spreading, aided by modern technology. A man in love and with XDR TB – I’ll call him Typhoid Phil since his name has not been released – flew from Atlanta to Paris to get married in Greece and then flew from Prague to Montreal on a circuitous route home to Atlanta, possibly infecting dozens of fellow travelers.

XDR TB is Extensively Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. The CDC says XDR TB is highly communicable, that is, prolonged contact with XDR TB will likely result in getting the disease. Consistent with that belief they are contacting everyone on those two trans-Atlantic flights to warn them and – if they sat within two rows of Mr. Newlywed – to test them.

Is anyone else thinking what I’m thinking? What about Typhoid Phil’s new wife? Does she have XDR TB? The CDC said she tested negative before the trip and is not considered a public health risk. Did she somehow develop a resistance to it? And is the CDC testing her to find out why and find a cure? Just in case is she in isolation like her husband? With her husband?

I’m confused. Lots of questions, contradictory information. A perfect situation for good sound mathematical analysis. First let’s look at some numbers.

The US TB rate has steadily declined and last year hit an all-time low of 4.6 cases per 100,000 Americans. That’s just under 14,000 cases in 2006. XDR TB? There have been just 17 cases since 2000, which means that XDR-TB infects just 1 in 100 million people each year in the US. But we’re talking about a serious disease here: 1.6 million people die annually from TB.

Scientific studies often consider spouses of TB sufferers to be resistant. One thing is for sure, this marriage is off to an interesting start. And with Typhoid Phil’s wife resistant to his TB but not to his charms, I hope it lasts forever.

No comments: