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TB patient ignored warnings, US says

Officials hunting for passengers

WASHINGTON -- The Atlanta man with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis who sparked an international health alarm by flying to Europe and back for his wedding twice ignored requests to stay put and not travel, officials said yesterday.

He apparently also shortened his honeymoon -- which included stays in both Greece and Italy -- and returned home early in order to avoid the complicated procedure being put together to get him back to the United States in a way that would not expose other people to his dangerous microbe.

Those were among the details that emerged yesterday about a cat-and-mouse game that reveals both how seriously public health officials take the threat of transcontinental spread of infectious disease and how easily the safeguards can be eluded.

"There is some indication of deceitfulness on the part of the individual," said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which was in the process of putting the patient's name on a "no-fly list" last Thursday when it learned he was already on a plane headed for Montreal.

Knocke also said last night that investigators were looking into how the man and his wife got through US Customs in Champlain, N.Y., when all border crossings had been given his name and told to hold him if he appeared.

The man, now back in Georgia and undergoing treatment, provided a different version of events to an Atlanta newspaper, saying he was never explicitly told he could not travel.

He could not be reached yesterday.

His name and identity have not been disclosed; he is said to be in his 30s. CNN reported last night that the man is an attorney.

Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) is neither more contagious nor more virulent than ordinary TB. Once acquired, however, it is very difficult to cure.

Authorities in the United States and several European countries are tracking down about 50 people who sat near the man on his Atlanta-to-Paris flight on May 12, and 30 people on his Prague-to-Montreal return May 24.

They will be offered testing to see whether they are infected.

Although his original plans were to return June 5, the infected man flew from Rome to Prague on May 24 and from Prague to Montreal the same day.

The "no-fly list" is primarily intended to prevent potential terrorists from boarding flights bound for the United States, but people who pose health risks can be included.

The department does not get real-time passenger data for flights ending in Canada, Knocke said, making it "very difficult for us to know who might be traveling there."

It is unknown whether the TB patient specifically chose to return via Canada for that reason.

Tracking the patient