TB Patient Speaker Was Misdiagnosed

Andrew Speaker was at the center of an international scare over drug-resistant tuberculosis. Now health officials say the form of TB he carries is more common than they thought, though still dangerous.

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Federal health officials say they were wrong when they announced in May that Atlanta lawyer Andrew Speaker has the most dangerous form of tuberculosis. The episode caused an international uproar when Speaker flew to Europe against medical advice. Now officials say he has a more common but still dangerous form of TB.

NPR's Richard Knox reports.

RICHARD KNOX: The case has been plagued with confusion and missteps. Speaker insists he wasn't told he was dangerous to others. Health officials insist he was. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to stop him from leaving the country, but he'd already left. When he returned, border guards were told to detain and isolate him, but he drove right through. Now it turns out the alarming diagnosis of extensively drug resistant or XDR-TB was based on a single test done at CDC labs. It's now contradicted by three others done by Denver specialists.

Harvard TB specialist Megan Murray says that's not necessarily the CDC's fault.

Ms. MEGAN MURRAY (Tuberculosis Specialist, Harvard University): There have been multiple studies that show that if you take replicate samples and test them in different labs, you often get different results.

KNOX: Murray says it makes more sense that Speaker has multiply resistant TB rather than the XDR form since he hadn't traveled to areas of the world where XDR TB is found. CDC officials say he shouldn't have traveled with either form. The revised diagnosis is good news for Speaker and anybody he might have infected. They can be treated with an array of drugs, although it still takes months or even years to vanquish the germ.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

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