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TB patient leaves Atlanta hospital; His plane neighbors suspected to be infected

A patient with tuberculosis diagnosis, living under the first federal quarantine since 1963 has left an Atlanta hospital and was expected to be taken to a Denver facility that specializes in respiratory disorders, officials said Thursday.

The man, who has not been publicly identified, knew he had TB when he flew from Atlanta to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon, but he did not find out until he was already there that it was an extensively drug-resistant strain considered especially dangerous.

Despite warning from federal health officials not to board another long flight, the man flew home for treatment.

Health officials in North America and Europe are trying to track down about 80 passengers who sat near him on the two trans-Atlantic flights, and they want passenger lists from four shorter flights the man took while in Europe. Patients on the shorter flights are not expected to be as much at risk, health officials said.

"The investigation is just beginning. It's very challenging," said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of global migration and quarantine.

Denise Simpson, a spokeswoman for Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, confirmed Thursday morning that the man had been released. But neither she nor William Allstetter, spokesman for Denver's National Jewish Hospital, would confirm if he was transferred there. Allstetter said the hospital would hold a news conference later Thursday.

The man flew to Paris on May 12 aboard Air France Flight 385, also listed as Delta Air Lines codeshare Flight 8517.

He and his bride also took four shorter flights while in Europe - Paris to Athens on May 14; Athens to Thira Island May 16; Mykonos Island to Athens May 21; and Athens to Rome May 21 - but CDC officials said there was less risk of infection during the shorter hops compared to the trans-Atlantic flights, which each lasted eight hours or more.

It was while the man was in Rome that he learned further U.S. tests had determined his TB was the rare, extensively drug-resistant form, far more dangerous than he knew. They told him turn himself over to Italian health officials and not to fly on any commercial airlines.

Instead, on May 24, the man flew from Rome to Prague on Czech Air Flight 0727, then flew to Montreal aboard Czech Air Flight 0104 and drove into the U.S., according to CDC officials.

Officials are trying to contact people who sat within five rows of him on the two longest flights for testing.

Other passengers are not considered at high risk of infection because tests indicated the amount of TB bacteria in the man was low, Cetron said Wednesday.

"Our big concern is that no one has told us which row he might have sat on," passenger Shannon Boccard, whose 10-year-old son was on the same flight, told WSB-TV in Atlanta.

The man told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that doctors did not order him not to fly and only suggested he put off his long-planned wedding. "We headed off to Greece thinking everything's fine," he told the newspaper.

Dr. Charles Daley, head of the infectious disease division at National Jewish, said the hospital has treated two other patients with what appears to be the same strain of tuberculosis since 2000, although that strain had not been identified and named at the time. He said the patients had improved enough to be released.

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