Provocative new research suggests international rules that ban potentially infectious tuberculosis patients from flying are too stringent, and airline passengers are really at little risk from catching TB from a fellow traveler.
The paper is controversial. U.S. health officials disagree, and a prominent TB expert says the findings are based on paltry data and current guidelines are appropriate.
The research analyzes 13 earlier studies of 4,300 airline passengers from six countries. Only two studies offered convincing evidence of an infected passenger spreading the disease to others.
There were only 10 infections diagnosed in thousands of passengers who flew with infected travelers.
The paper mentions what may be the most famous incident of a TB-infected airline passenger: Andrew Speaker, a Georgia lawyer with a drug-resistant form of TB who ignored government advice and flew to and from Europe in 2007. Hundreds of passengers who traveled with him were tested, and none was found to have tuberculosis.