Scary. On the 29th December I had written for the Times of India, and blogged (look under current events) abut the 10 things that 2006 will be most remembered for. Amongst them was an almost missed bit of news from the WHO that a new, completely drug resistant strain of TB had developed. I predicted then that the greatest carriers of TB would become the Airlines with people packed together like Sardines for up to 16 hours at a time. And what with the airlines notorious for not recycling air to save money. Imagine my astonishment when the story of an American man carrying this drug resistant strain became headline news recently ! But is this just one isolated case that was discovered, or are there thousands of people carrying these germs flying everyday ? How much of a risk are we all at ?
Those of us that have spent most of our lives in India have lived constantly with the presence of TB. My Grandmother (who I never met) had died of it, and I have had two of my domestic employees treated for TB. One even had to go to a TB sanatorium for 6 months. But just as we were getting used to the idea of a TB free world, it has hit us again.
The problem with TB is that someone can go years without ever discovering that they have TB. And people with weak immune systems, such as those with AIDS infections are particularly vulnerable. As are children.
So what can we do ?
1. Airlines must hold some responsibility to provide an infection free atmosphere to it’s passengers.
2. We too must take it seriously now. I think we as responsible people need to get ourselves checked periodically and NOT travel if we are carrying the infection.
What else should we be doing ?
Are we that come from the developing world now going to asked to go through not only extreme security checks at immigration but also screenings for infectious diseases ?