Possible TB Patient On Flight Is a Reminder of the Risks of Traveling When Sick
Earlier this week, a news story about a plane full of passengers who may have been exposed to TB caught our attention in the MedFlight911 offices. You may have seen the same report, about a man suspected of having active TB who was removed from a commercial flight. The man was flying from Austin, Texas, on a flight bound for Phoenix. When the plane landed, emergency medical crews boarded the aircraft, removed the passenger, and then informed the other travelers that they had been exposed to tuberculosis. It's easy to imagine how panicked those other passengers must have felt when they heard that announcement.
This story is still developing, so it's hard to know exactly what happened (in fact, it was recently confirmed that the man in question does not have infectious TB) and how it could have been better handled. One thing to know is that patients with serious infectious diseases like active TB can be placed on the CDC's "Do Not Board" list, which temporarily bars them from flying. That didn't happen in this case. The other thing to know is that the even if the man did have active TB, the chances of him infecting other passengers were low, given the short duration of the flight and his lack of overall symptoms. Still, it's a troubling occurrence that reminds us of the dangers of flying—and the possible advantage of flying with an air medical escort.
Of course, a person with active TB or a similar communicable disease shouldn't be getting on a commercial flight at all. But many people don't know that. Working with an experienced air medical transport company can help sick people determine when it's OK for them to fly commercial and when they may need to opt for a different method of transport, like an air ambulance. An air medical escort company will work with you and your airline to make sure you'll be allowed to board the plane (it's not uncommon for sick patients to be denied boarding at the gate because the airline just doesn't want to take the risk of flying them), in addition to helping you navigate all the challenges of getting from point A to point B. But how do you know that the air medical escort company has the experience necessary to provide the assistance you need? Unfortunately, that's a hard thing to do. Recently, a number of air medical escort companies have sprung up, promising to help with your air medical transport needs. But there's no easy way to evaluate these providers experience or skills. Online reviews and reports from groups like the Better Business Bureau can help (at MedFlight911, we're proud of our A rating from the BBB). But your best bet is usually to ask for references from former patients. Speaking to a satisfied (or unsatisfied) customer is a great way to evaluate a company and the service it provides.
That kind of research, while time consuming, is important. Fly-by-night air medical escorts may appear legitimate on the surface (after all, it's not hard to post an ad on Craigslist or set up a website), but they may not have the knowledge to deal with complicated medical situations. Or, they may be willing to take on extra risks to make a buck. Like any industry, the level of service you receive can vary dramatically from company to company, and the maxim "buyer beware" is a good one to keep in mind when choosing an air medical transport company.