Erie County officials said they are on alert for cases of tuberculosis among Tibetans waiting here for the chance to enter Canada.
"There's no indication of any occurrence here, (but) the red flag is up, so we're watching for it," said county Health Department epidemiologist Jack Schwartz.
The red flag was raised in Toronto, where at least five Tibetan refugee claimants have active cases of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis, an infectious disease that usually affects the lungs. It is one of the most dangerous strains of TB because it is difficult and expensive to treat.
Many of the hundreds of Tibetans who are waiting for legal status in Canada are believed to have entered that country via Buffalo, and some of those people stayed at Vive La Casa, a center for refugees of all nationalities on Wyoming Avenue.
The center's executive director, the Rev. John R. Long, said about 300 Tibetans have come through the center since December. He said most have very short-term stays -- one or two days at the most.
They are given skin tests, which show whether a person has been exposed to the tuberculosis microbe. About a dozen were deemed to have been exposed, he said, but subsequent testing revealed no active cases of TB, which Mr. Long described as "a disease of poverty and dispossessed people."
Mr. Long said he has been unable to tell with any certainty whether any of the Tibetans who came through Buffalo were among those found to have active tuberculosis in Toronto.
"We don't actually know that these people came through here," he said. "It's very possible they did, but because of confidentiality reasons on the Canadian side, they're not telling us who the people were."
But because of the threat -- tuberculosis can be spread by a cough or a sneeze -- Canadian officials are now giving Tibetan refugee claimants chest X-rays, which would confirm active TB, before allowing them to leave the border area.
Mr. Long said the center has a nurse on duty every day but one, and a doctor on its board. Schwartz said the center is doing a good job monitoring incoming Tibetans.
"They're watching for it, so if they do have anybody experiencing symptoms -- night sweats, coughing -- they're going to jump on it right away and take action," Schwartz said. "I think we're ahead of the game, but we still don't have all the answers."