Report: Mexican With Deadly TB Flew Across U.S. Border 76 Times

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson and Heather Nauert," October 18, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, CO-HOST: It's the big scare tonight. He has a highly contagious disease that two members of his family already died from, and you may have come very close to this man. A new report says that a Mexican man who has a deadly form of tuberculosis has managed to cross the United States border an eye-popping 76 times.

JOHN GIBSON, CO-HOST: Not only that, he's flown on planes within the United States. A report raises serious questions about who is crossing our borders and what took so long for the government to track him down? The feds say they have some answers.

BIG STORY correspondent Douglas Kennedy is here with more. Douglas, what did they say?

DOUGLAS KENNEDY, FOX CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Feds are saying this guy it gave his doctors a false name, so it was impossible for them to track him down in the United States. They say he was a frequent flyer, and hundreds of people may have been exposed.


KENNEDY (voice-over): He crossed the U.S./Mexico border 76 times in the past year but not with drugs or guns. Some say this man was concealing something potentially more dangerous.

KENNEDY (on camera): So how many people could a TB outbreak affect in this country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Um, it could infect potentially thousands of people. It starts with a couple getting infected, they infect more, and it multiplies geometrically.

KENNEDY (voice-over): And so-on-and-so-on. His name is Amado Isidro Armendariz Amaya, and he's businessman from Chihuahua, Mexico. Health officials say for five years he's been infected with MDR TB, one of the most virulent and contagious forms of tuberculosis. In fact, health officials say both his father and his sister recently died of the disease in Mexico.

Dr. Stephen Gardner is head of emergency medicine at New York's Methodist Hospital.

KENNEDY (on camera): Now you're really not supposed to travel if you have this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should not be traveling if you have any major illness, whether it's the flu, whether it's SARS or whether it's TB that's infective. Because when you're in a plane you're in a closed space with passengers very close to you for prolonged periods of time. It's — it's a set up to transmit this to the person next to you.

KENNEDY (voice-over): In fact, MDR TB is the same form of TB that infected Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta personal-injury lawyer who shocked the world earlier this year, when he boarded a trans-Atlantic flight despite dire warnings from European and American health experts. Speaker traveled once; Amaya, 76 times. And Border Patrol officials say he was clearly trying to hide his condition.

U.S. Customs and border protection was notified in April, by health officials, of an individual with TB, who may have been crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Officials, however, were not provided the correct name or date of birth for the individual, because he was seeking treatment under an alias.

Off the record, an official at CBP with intimate knowledge of the case say Amaya concealed his identity and condition to Mexican health officials so his travel wouldn't be restricted. The same official says Amaya traveled 21 times between April 16 and May 21, including flights to Atlanta and Salt Lake City on Delta, into Phoenix on U.S. Air.

KENNEDY (on camera): So what should people do if they're worried they had contact with this guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They should go to their local doctor, tell the situation. Most people will not have a problem, but it's the people who were in proximity to him that would be most likely to be affected.


KENNEDY: Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control says patients with MDR TB must not travel by plane, quote, "under any circumstances." They say anyone who may have encountered Amaya or anyone who suspects they may have MDR TB should contact their doctor, and of course, John and Heather, get tested immediately.

NAUERT: Douglas, 76 times. Are the fed's going to do any better?

KENNEDY: Unbelievable the amount of times. You know, this is a very hard case, because this guy, you know, they knew about this guy a month and a half before, but they had the wrong name and the wrong date of birth. And they say, you know, you can't find somebody if you don't know his name.

NAUERT: U.S. officials had the wrong name and the wrong date of birth.

KENNEDY: Yes, Mexico officials and U.S. officials.

NAUER: So this becomes a license issue, too, so that when they're looking at his identification, they need to make sure that they're...

KENNEDY: He lied to his doctors in Mexico, so they say there's no way you're going to be able to find the guy, because TB, you don't look at somebody and know they have TB.

NAUER: OK, Douglas, I hope feds are using this as a test to keep terrorist out and all of that, thanks.

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