Robins employees cleared for duty in recent TB scare

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Sequoiya Lawson
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Three Team Robins employees have been cleared by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to return to their duty locations following an investigation into their exposure to a potentially infectious strain of tuberculosis, according to the Robins Public Health Office.

The employees were passengers on at least one commercial flight sometime between May 12 and May 24 where Andrew Speaker, a U.S. citizen, was known to be aboard with XDR, a form of TB that can be highly resistant to most drugs used to treat the disease.

"Fortunately, the risk of a TB outbreak at Robins or in the local community is very little to none as a result of these recent events," said Col. Jim McClain, 78th Medical Group commander. "Taking care of our people is a top priority, so infectious disease of any type is a valid concern to our community."

According to the CDC's Web site, passengers exposed to Mr. Speaker pose no threat to others.

"Some of the passengers are worried that they pose a threat to other people right now, and that's absolutely not the case," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, according to a June 1 press release on the CDC Web site. "We want to make sure we reassure them personally, but also generically, so that people who know someone who has been on this flight don't erroneously conclude that there's some kind of infection risk."

There were 26 passengers of the 292 U.S. residents that the CDC considered highest risk; they would have been seated in the row the passenger was in and the two rows in front and behind.

The Robins employees were either on a different deck or several rows behind the infected passenger. One employee is back on duty at Robins, while the other two are currently on temporary duty overseas.

Due to very limited, if any, exposure to TB bacteria on the aircraft, there is minimal risk that the three Robins employees would have a latent TB infection, said Colonel McClain.

According to the CDC Web site, people with latent TB infection have TB bacteria in their bodies, but they are not sick because the bacteria are not active. These people do not have symptoms of TB disease, and they cannot spread the bacteria to others. They may develop TB disease in the future and are often prescribed treatment to prevent them from developing TB.

The site also said people who actually develop TB are sick from TB bacteria that are active, meaning they are multiplying in their body. They usually have symptoms of TB. People with TB of the lungs or throat are capable of spreading bacteria to others. There are prescribed drugs that can cure TB.

"Additionally, contracting TB is far more difficult than catching the flu," said Capt. Patricia Garcia, Robins public health officer. "In the medical community we never want to say never, but we are confident there is a low to minimal risk."

A person must be exposed to the TB bacteria in a large concentration for an extended period. If the bacteria make it into the body, it now must survive the attack of the immune system, and even if it makes it through that, it may never manifest to an active disease phase, she said.

Captain Garcia said the Robins Public Health Office has an active TB Detection and Control program that operates in full compliance with CDC and Air Force guidelines.

"It is our job not only to educate people on possible communicable diseases and how to protect themselves but also to do surveillance for the possible introduction of any diseases into our population," said Captain Garcia.

"TB is a treatable disease. XDR TB, the drug-resistant strain, is harder and more expensive to treat but it is treatable," said Colonel McClain.

Robins employees may contact the base public health office at 327-8019 for more information.

More information about this incident and XDR TB can be found on the CDC's TB Web site at, or by calling 1-800-CDC-INFO.