Stories tagged tuberculosis


Karl Pha feels like he is in prison—he has been confined to an Eau Clair Hospital. Mr. Pha has active TB and refuses to take his medicine. The medication causes extreme itching. I understand his unhappiness, but he has 5 young children. If he doesn’t care about his own life he should at least worry about his kids. TB is a serious disease. Public health officials are not only concerned about Mr. Pha’s health and his family’s health but also the development of an antibiotic resistant strain.

This case brings up a few questions:

  • Should public health officials have the authority to confine someone with an infectious disease?
  • How would you define a situation that requires confinement?
  • Who pays for this hospitalization or other confinement costs?

Pass it on: What rights do people with communicable diseases like tuberculosis -- shown in a microscopic enlargement above -- have when coming into contact with the public?
Pass it on: What rights do people with communicable diseases like tuberculosis -- shown in a microscopic enlargement above -- have when coming into contact with the public?
Are you like me, kind of in a fog about what really is the big deal about the guy with tuberculosis (TB) who recently flew on a trans-Atlantic flight?

Well, I’ve been digging around a little bit, and in my humble opinion, here’s why we do need to spend some time thinking about it.

Andrew Speaker flew to Europe this spring after having a diagnosis for an extensively drug-resistant form of TB. That information had been passed on to a federal agency, but it didn’t take any action to block his flight plans, or notify other passengers on the plane, that he would be sharing a long plane ride with them. Subsequently, it was discovered that he actually has a much milder form of TB.

But the question is, what role if any and how aggressively should government agencies be in notifying others that someone they’re in close contact has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition?

The Monday morning quarterbacking has been going on for weeks on the Speaker case and there is no clear-cut verdict.

Regular TB is treatable in about 95 percent of the cases. But special, stronger forms of TB, such as first thought with Speaker, are harder to reign in. His situation

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control say that a diagnosis for TB can take up to two months, plus even longer if it is a harsher form of TB, like first thought with Speaker. In his situation, once authorities found out he had been on a long, international flight, all of the passengers in the plane were notified and encouraged to be checked out for TB in themselves.

TB authorities say that was the proper way to handle the situation. And in light of the reduction of Speaker’s severity of TB, it might have been just right. But what if it had been the worst-case form of TB, which was thought at the time he took the flight. Should he have been allowed to fly at all?

And that’s just one form of communicable disease. Are there other conditions you’d like to know are present in fellow travelers, co-workers or other people you come in close proximity to? Do we all assume the risk of catching various medical problems when we live in a free society? Share your thoughts on this issue here with other Science Buzz readers.

The guy who got on a plane, traveled all over Europe, Canada, and then back to the US even though he knew he was infected with a super rare antibiotic resistant strain of tuberculosis, said he was sorry in an interview. There are still a ton of weird unanswered questions in this story that will be interesting to see develop.


Dr. Arthur Aufderheide, a teacher at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, helped to found the science of paleopathology-the study of ancient diseases. He autopsies mummies, salvaging and studying mummy organs from all over the world.

Aufderheide uses his collection of more than 6,000 samples of mummy tissue to identify the diseases that plagued ancient populations. His work helps to show where diseases evolved and how they spread, and may even help to cure modern ailments.

Traces of ancient diseases

Paleopathologists value tissue samples from mummies because they may still show signs of illnesses. Mummy eyes are usually well preserved, and can provide evidence of eye diseases as well as chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, some kinds of cancer, nutritional deficiencies, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Scientists can also diagnose illnesses caused by bacteria and parasites-such as tuberculosis, malaria, and Chagas' disease-from mummy tissues.

Learning from the dead

Until very recently, paleopathologists looked at individual mummies and wrote case reports: they could sometimes prove the presence or absence of a disease in one person, but they couldn't test big hypotheses or compare modern populations to ancient ones.

Aufderheide, on the other hand, has tissue samples from 283 mummies from Peruvian and Andean coastal South America at different time periods. Today, many people in those areas suffer from Chagas' disease-an incurable illness caused by a parasite. Aufderheide and colleagues used DNA analysis to search for signs of the disease in the mummies. Because they had such a large number of samples, they were able to compare the mummies to modern-day populations and generate statistically significant results. They found the parasites in 41% of the samples, and the percentage was the same for both sexes, all ages, and all time periods. Their results suggest that people in coastal South America have been exposed to Chagas' disease for 9,000 years.


It's older than the plague, typhoid fever, or malaria. It's claimed the lives of literary greats John Keats, Emily Bronte, and Franz Kafka, and kills more than three million people around the world each year by attacking the lungs and producing symptoms like coughing, loss of appetite, fever, and night sweats. Tuberculosis, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is also re-emerging in areas like Eastern Europe, southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV is on the rise. Scientists now believe that TB may actually date back as far as three-million years, with current strains descended from a more ancient bacterial species that emerged in Africa. "Tuberculosis. . . might have affected early hominids," says researcher Veronique Vincent of the Institut Pasteur in Paris. Up until this point, scientists believed that TB arose a few tens of thousands of years ago and spread around the world. However, molecular analysis of a strain of TB from East Africa suggests that the disease is much, much older. Researchers hope this information will aid in the development of new treatments; Mycobacterium tuberculosis is rapidly growing resistant to the drugs currently used to treat it.