When Megan Starnes traveled overseas last month as part of a study abroad program at the University of South Carolina, the Kansas native never imagined she was on the same airplane as a man with a deadly strain of tuberculosis.
When the three-week program concluded last week, Starnes, a business major at USC, flew home to Riley County.
She thought her adventure was over. But the next day, she heard alarming news.
"I turned on CNN, and they were saying a guy with tuberculosis was on an Air France flight, and I go 'OK, that's my airline,'" Starnes explained.
Not just her airline. Starnes was on the same flight to Europe as Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta man with a rare form of drug-resistant tuberculosis - a potentially deadly disease.
"Emotionally, at first I kind of panicked," Starnes said, "because : I realized it was my flight, you know, and I'm thinking 'where was he sitting? Where was I sitting?'"
It turns out Starnes was 10 rows behind Speaker, so she is considered at low risk for contracting the disease.
Later, Starnes learned Speaker was aware of his condition and had been warned to avoid travel, but did anyway.
"My first thought was, 'why are you traveling if you know you can infect other people,' you know? At first I wasn't extremely mad but I was a little disappointed," Starnes said.
At the urging of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Starnes was tested for TB. The results were negative.
The TB skin test is a "baseline" to determine if a person were infected with TB before the potential exposure.
"The incubation period for TB is six to eight weeks," said Phil Griffin, director of Kansas Department of Health and Environment's TB program. "Another test will be given eight weeks from the date of the exposure to determine if any of the contacts were infected with XDR TB."
This is standard practice, KDHE officials said.
People who may have been exposed are not infectious unless they develop an active form of TB. And active cases of TB are not always infectious or contagious.
"Last year in Kansas, there were 82 cases of active TB and 60 of those cases were infectious at some point," Griffin said.
None of the cases in Kansas was the XDR type. Also, only 5 percent to 10 percent of people infected will develop active TB and that risk is decreased significantly if the infection is treated.