Authorities in South Africa have threatened to send police on door-to-door searches to force 23 patients with highly infectious tuberculosis to return to their hospital.
The patients escaped from the hospital in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth last week by cutting a hole through the wire fence surrounding their isolation unit. The patients had complained they wanted to spend Christmas with their families.
Health officials said Wednesday that another 26 patients who had also escaped the Jose Pearson Hospital last week have since returned.
Most of the patients are suffering from a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, called XDR-TB, which is virtually immune to existing antibiotics.
Many of those who become infected with XDR-TB are also HIV positive. The death rate for people suffering from both diseases is as high as 85 percent.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.