Health Care

TB Patient Identified; Father-in-Law Works at CDC

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Andrew Speaker, the 31-year-old lawyer infected with an extremely drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, has been flown to National Jewish Medical Research Center in Denver for treatment.

Dr. Gwen Huitt, who is treating Speaker at National Jewish, says he expects Speaker to recover fully. Speaker has an active case of TB, but is healthy and not likely to be infectious.

"He would be considered of low infectivity at this point in time," Huitt says. "He's not coughing, he's healthy, he does not have a fever, so he is of low communicability at this point in time."

Huitt says the medical team is currently figuring out what drugs will work best for Speaker, and whether he's a candidate for surgery. That would be if the bacteria are concentrated in a particular area of his lungs.

Speaker's infection was discovered not because he had a cough that wouldn't quit — a typical sign of active TB — but because he happened to have an X-ray to check for a rib injury. Shadows on his X-ray showed that one lung was infected. It's not uncommon that people can carry TB bacteria and show no obvious signs.

"The body can kill it, as it's supposed to do, if your immune system is functioning at 100 percent," Huitt says. "In other cases, the body will take care of it for a period of time."

But then something can stress the body, and the germ re-activates.

Speaker is not the first American to develop extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. A spokesperson for National Jewish says the hospital has treated a handful of XDR-TB cases like Speaker's before. But one curious aspect of Speaker's case is that his father-in-law is a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and he works on tuberculosis bacteria in his laboratory.

Huitt says that may or may not be important.

"That's certainly a fact that we know about; it's being entertained. At this point in time, I can't really make any other judgments about that," she said.

The father-in-law issued a statement Thursday saying that the bacterium did not originate from himself or his laboratory, which operates under high biosecurity conditions. Speaker's wife has reportedly shown no signs of infection so far.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from