Health officials on alert after man on CSA flight diagnosed with"super TB"

Health officials have been put on alert after learning that an American man who flew from Prague to Montreal last Thursday was carrying a highly dangerous strain of tuberculosis. A number of passengers on the Czech Airlines flight are to undergo medical tests to make sure they haven't become infected, although Czech officials say the chances of the infection spreading to other passengers were low.

Czech Airlines says the crew of flight 0104 which left Prague on May 24 bound for Montreal was alerted about five hours into the flight that one of its passengers was carrying a highly contagious disease. The man, from the U.S. state of Georgia, had contracted a strain of tuberculosis called XDR TB, which is highly resistant to virtually all antibiotics. This was only confirmed after the man underwent further tests in the U.S.

The plane was carrying 187 passengers plus crew. The Czech authorities say they are working with Czech Airlines and the authorities in Canada and the U.S. to track down everyone who was sitting in the two rows either side of the man and ensure they are placed under medical supervision. The remaining passengers have also been advised to have tests. Michael Vit is the Czech Republic's Chief Medical Officer:

"We consider this to be a serious illness and as the country's Chief Health Officer, I and my colleagues have the responsibility to order those measures that we consider necessary. If - after consulting with our epidemiologists - we consider such measures essential, then we order them to be carried out. So we've ordered those at risk to be placed under strict medical supervision, including obligatory consultation with a doctor."

Michael Vit told Radio Prague that the chances of other passengers contracting the disease were actually fairly low:

"It's important to stress that the patient was not macroscopically positive - in other words he wasn't coughing up phlegm, he wasn't spreading droplets of infectious bacteria on board and - according to the information I have - he was wearing a facemask. So that should lower the possible level of risk."

Czech Airlines spokeswoman Daniela Hupakova said there was little the airline could do to prevent such cases occurring.

"Well it's quite a hard question and it's also quite a thing to do because the passengers are informed about the regulations and the conditions of transportations and they're supposed to obey them. So it's impossible to ask every passenger to get permission from the doctor or ask them for some personal information regarding their health before they use our services."

The man, who has not been named, had been warned by the U.S. authorities not to travel. However, American officials said "compelling personal reasons" had led him to ignore those warnings. On May 13th he flew from Atlanta to Paris. Eleven days later he boarded the Czech Airlines flight from Prague to Montreal. He re-entered the United States by car, and has now been placed in isolation, the first isolation order to be issued in the U.S. since 1963.