Public health officials in Phoenix have locked up a man with an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB, because he refused to take proper measures to prevent infecting other people.

Behind the county hospital's tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping. Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. It is considered virtually untreatable.

County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because he failed to take precautions to avoid infecting others. Specifically, he said he did not heed doctors' instructions to wear a mask in public. ...

County health officials and Daniels' lawyer, Robert Blecher, would not discuss details of the case. But in general, [Dr. Robert England, Maricopa County's tuberculosis control officer] said the county would not force someone into quarantine unless the patient could not or would not follow doctor's orders.

"It's very uncommon that someone would both not want to take treatment and will willingly put others at risk," England said. "It's only those very uncommon incidents where we have to use legal authority through the courts to isolate somebody."

By this same logic, could a person with HIV/AIDS be locked up if he/she refused to avoid engaging in risky sexual behavior that put others at risk of infection? Such measures might actually make it possible to curb the spread of the terrible disease.

(Previous entries about wiping out AIDS.)

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