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Health Officials Tracking Down Hundreds Who Interacted with Woman Battling Rare, Extreme TB

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Jose Luis Magana/AP

Health officials are on the hunt for hundreds of people who might have come in close contact with a woman who is being treated for a rare, drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.

The unnamed woman traveled into the United States from India via Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in April, and also spent time in Missouri and Tennessee, the Centers for Disease Control said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.

“[The] CDC will obtain the passenger manifest for that flight from the airline and will begin a contact investigation,” the CDC also said in the statement. “Although the risk of getting a contagious disease on an airplane is low, public health officers sometimes need to find and alert travelers who may have been exposed to an ill passenger. Contact investigation is one of the ways CDC works with health departments in the United States to protect the health of people exposed to an illness.”

According to the Associated Press, three to four cases of extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR) are reported each year in the United States, on average.

The CDC confirms the patient spent seven weeks in the United States before seeking treatment and being diagnosed with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) and moving to a specialized facility.

“The patient is currently in stable condition at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Maryland. Before being transported by air ambulance to the NIH hospital, the patient was in respiratory isolation in a suburban Chicago hospital. Further drug susceptibility testing is underway at CDC; the results will guide decisions about the patient’s treatment,” the CDC also revealed.

A statement from the NIH and obtained by PEOPLE also confirmed the unnamed woman is receiving treatment at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the largest research hospital in America.

“The patient was transferred to the NIH via special air and ground ambulances,” the NIH said in a statement.

“The patient is staying in an isolation room in the NIH Clinical Center specifically designed for handling patients with respiratory infections, including XDR-TB. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, is providing care and treatment for the patient in connection with an existing NIH clinical protocol for treating TB, including XDR forms. NIAID has treated other XDR-TB patients in the past under this protocol,” the NIH said.

According to the CDC’s website, TB can be contracted when someone coughs, sneezes, sings or speaks and sends the bacteria in the air, which is then breathed in by another person.