Lawyer: Doctors Deemed His TB Not Contagious Andrew Speaker, who traveled back and forth to Europe while carrying an extensively drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, says his doctors told him his infection posed no risk to others. Speaker's TB is considered an active case, but he has no symptoms.
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Lawyer: Doctors Deemed His TB Not Contagious

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Lawyer: Doctors Deemed His TB Not Contagious

Lawyer: Doctors Deemed His TB Not Contagious

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

There are more developments today in the case of the man from Atlanta infected with a dangerous type of tuberculosis. He was able to travel to Europe to get married and return while on a no-fly list.

NPR's Joanne Silberner reports.

JOANNE SILBERNER: Andrew Speaker is doing well, but the experience has been traumatic for the 31-year-old personal injury lawyer. In an interview today on ABC's "Good Morning America", he apologized for possibly infecting others with extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Mr. ANDREW SPEAKER (Personal Injury Lawyer): I don't expect those people to ever forgive me. I just hope they understand that I truly never meant to put them in harm. I never meant to hurt their families or them. And I just hope they can find a way to forgive me for putting them in harm because I didn't mean to.

SILBERNER: There were 435 passengers on his flight from Atlanta to Paris. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been working to find the U.S. passengers on that flight. CDC director Julie Gerberding described their efforts today.

Dr. JULIE GERBERDING (Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): We believe that we have contacted all of the U.S. passengers, people who were residents of the United States or citizens of the United States who were seated in the five rows that are the concern.

SILBERNER: Speaker and his wife were the only Americans on the other long flight they took on Czech Air. It's the job of other countries to contact their own citizens. The Americans on the Paris flight will be tested twice in the next several weeks because TB takes time to establish itself.

Gerberding says the likelihood that Speaker infected anyone is pretty low, but there's a reason for all the concern.

Dr. GERBERDING: The public health actions necessary to protect people on this Situation are based not only on the degree of his infectiousness, but also on the fact that this is a very, very drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria, and we have to be as cautious as we can.

SILBERNER: According to the World Health Organization, there are no recorded cases of becoming sick with TB just from sitting on an aircraft with an infected person. There have been cases on too long flights of people getting infected but never showing symptoms.

Dozens of Americans have had the type of TB Speaker has. What makes Speaker's case worrisome is that while health officials knew of his infection, he managed to get on several planes. He'd been under treatment for TB since January. He had so few bacteria that they didn't show up on a simple smear of his sputum.

On "Good Morning America" this morning, Speaker said he didn't understand that he might infect others.

Mr. SPEAKER: I repeatedly asked my doctors, you know, is my family at risk? Is anybody at risk for this? I turned up smear-negative on all my cultures. They told me I wasn't contagious, that I wasn't dangerous.

SILBERNER: Speaker says that when he was in Rome, he was getting confusing messages from U.S. health officials about if and when and how he could fly back home. So he and his new wife decided to just go for it.

Mr. SPEAKER: Truly, in our minds, we were told that we were not a threat to the people around us, and we wanted to get home.

SILBERNER: Meanwhile, Gwen Huitt, his doctor at National Jewish Research and Medical Center in Denver says he's doing very well today. His chest X-ray doesn't show any further infection in his lungs beyond what's been seen. He has no cough and no fever, two hallmarks of active TB.

Dr. GWEN HUITT (Internal Medicine, National Jewish Research and Medical Center): We were able to get him on an exercise bike in his room, so he's actively starting to do some good exercises in preparation of the road that he has ahead of him.

SILBERNER: What he has ahead of him is a regimen of up to five drugs for two years. Some of them can have side effects that include vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Meanwhile, next week in Washington, the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing to investigate how Andrew Speaker evaded federal officials' efforts to control his travel.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

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