In May, a US citizen diagnosed with multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) traveled to Europe, sparking a massive operation to identify the hundreds of airline passengers who he exposed to his illness. Fortunately, no secondary cases have been reported. Just two months later, a Taiwanese man, who also has MDR TB, and his wife, who has TB in the infectious phase, took Dragonair from Taiwan to Hong Kong and then to Nanjing, China, to attend a wedding. More than 270 passengers and crew were on the first flight, and more than 120 on the second.

Both passengers had been banned from traveling. These cases illustrate that voluntary compliance with travel restrictions does not always work.

TB is spread by coughing, which produces relatively heavy droplets that do not travel very far. Many of us have probably had the unpleasant experience of sitting near a passenger with a chronic cough during...

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