- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The government is investigating how the globe-trotting tuberculosis patient drove into the country after his name was put on a watch list — and given to U.S. border guards.

The episode showed a major gap in the nation’s system to keep the most dire of diseases from crossing borders. That the Atlanta man and his wife were cleared by border agents who had been told to stop them is one in a series of missed opportunities to catch a patient seemingly determined to elude health officials.

Worried infection specialists say it shows how vulnerable the nation is, because of outdated quarantine laws and the speed of international travel, to killer germs carried by tourists. What if, they ask, the now-quarantined man had carried not hard-to-spread tuberculosis but something very contagious like the next super-flu?

“It’s regretful that we weren’t able to stop that,” Dr. Martin Cetron of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said of how the man fled when U.S. health officials tracked him down in Rome and told him not to get on an airplane. “There will be many lessons learned from this.”

The CDC was a step or more behind the man on his six-country odyssey, not getting his name to the no-fly list until he apparently was en route to Canada, Dr. Cetron said.

But the CDC did get word to U.S. Customs and Border Protection before the man and his wife crossed into the country at Champlain, N.Y., a Department of Homeland Security spokesman told the Associated Press yesterday.

Customs “is reviewing the facts involved with the decision to admit the individuals into the country without isolation,” said spokesman Russ Knocke.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the case “shows that something is wrong with the training and supervision of our border agents. We put all this time and effort into identifying those who shouldn’t enter our country, but what good is it if it can be brushed aside by a border guard? I shudder to think that this individual could have been a terrorist.”

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