The case of a US citizen apparently traveling the globe in some gadfly fashion while infected with a case of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) has captivated the news for over a week now. The fingers are pointing to the patient (er, victim), CDC, Fulton County health officials, border security and many others. 'How did the system break down' is the usual question in these circumstances. Yet it is also important to note that one third of the world's population, approximately 2 billion people, are currently infected with TB. As many as 500,000 people may have multidrug-resistant TB. And many of them are intermingling with people and using public forms of transportation.. Having spent a couple of years working on these types of issues, a primary contributor to what went wrong is painfully obvious and the UPMC Center of Biosecurity nails it.
The patient with XDR-TB has said he decided to fly home from Europe against the direction of public health authorities because he was frightened that he would be confined to an Italian hospital, that he would never get home, and that he would never get well. This refrain is common in the history of epidemics [emphasis added]. When people become so frightened by the possible government reaction or by the possible public reaction to their illness, they avoid medical attention and sometimes disappear. This has been documented in past U.S. smallpox outbreaks, in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and in the 2003 SARS outbreak in Beijing and Hong Kong.
If infected individuals are made into public scapegoats, it may increase the likelihood that in the future people with highly contagious diseases will be reluctant to seek proper medical attention. It is in society’s great interest to avoid doing anything that makes it so frightening to get diagnosed and/or treated for infectious diseases that people decide not to seek diagnosis and care. Addressing this critical issue is not only a matter of common decency—it is also a matter of collective enlightened self-interest.
It's not just about developing security systems, it's also recognizing that people, not pawns, are involved [Top 5 Disaster Myths].