A new system to prevent travelers in the "open," or infectious phase of tuberculosis (TB) from boarding international flights more than eight hours long will go online next month, a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) official said yesterday.
The rules are even more stringent for patients infected with the rarer and more serious forms of TB, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR) and extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR).
"People in the infectious phase of MDR or XDR will not be allowed on any flights at all for the safety of other passengers," CDC Deputy Director Chou Chih-hao (周志浩) said.
Health authorities said on Tuesday that they had notified some 1,100 TB patients that they are subject to travel restrictions.
Chou said that 188 multi-drug-resistant TB patients and more than 900 other infectious TB patients have been placed under air travel restrictions.
Although the alert system was originally slated to go online next January at the earliest, the schedule was moved up after an MDR patient surnamed Li and his wife broke the travel ban last month, causing concern and an expensive action to locate the couple and bring them home.
The Department of Health (DOH) intends to sue Li for compensation, Chou said.
Once the new system goes online on Sept. 1, infectious TB patients who try to violate air restrictions will be identified when they show their passports before boarding, Chou said.
"We have provided the National Immigration Agency with a list of patients in the `open' phase of TB and this will be updated daily," Chou said.
Because patients' status can change overnight, patients on the list can still travel freely if they have a document from their doctor stating that they are no longer infectious.
There is currently no way for TB patients with urgent reasons to travel to get around the restrictions, Chou said.
"With proper treatment, most tuberculosis patients can get past the infectious phase in two weeks," he said.
"It takes a lot longer for MDR and XDR patients and they might have to explore surgical options such as removing parts of their lung," Chou said.
Additional reporting by CNA