Bizarre twist in TB case
Passengers who shared a flight with infected
honeymooner aghast to learn he'd had access to a
tuberculosis expert – his new father-in-law
2007 04:30 AM
ATLANTA–One thing is clear about
Andrew Speaker, the honeymooner who crisscrossed
Europe and the Atlantic, putting fellow airline
passengers at risk of getting an especially
dangerous strain of tuberculosis: He can't claim
Speaker, who arrived at a Denver
hospital under armed guard yesterday, didn't just
have doctors' warnings against flying to Europe, and
again against flying back to the U.S. by way of
Canada. As a personal injury lawyer, he presumably
knew about the danger of reckless behaviour.
And most amazingly, Speaker, 31, has
a new father-in-law with a vast knowledge of the
disease: Bob Cooksey is a microbiologist at the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and a
specialist in TB and other bacteria. Cooksey said
yesterday he gave Speaker some "fatherly advice"
when he learned the young man had contracted the
Cooksey would not comment on whether
he reported his son-in-law to U.S. health
authorities, and the CDC did not explain how the
case came to their attention. He did, however, issue
a statement yesterday saying Speaker did not
contract the disease from him or the CDC labs.
Yesterday, travellers who flew on
the same flights as Speaker angrily accused him of
putting hundreds of other people's lives in danger.
It is "outrageous" how many people's
health he has risked, said Laney Wiggins, 21, one of
more than two dozen University of South
Carolina-Aiken students who are getting skin tests
because they shared a flight with Speaker.
In Canada, all 28 of the passengers
who sat near Speaker on a Czech Airlines flight from
Prague to Montreal last week have been identified.
The Public Health Agency says authorities here only
learned Speaker was in Canada a day after he left.
Those 28 on the Czech flight now
could face months of anxiety and testing as they
wait to learn if, despite what experts believe are
low odds, they were infected with the drug-
"It's not a trivial thing to be
exposed to tuberculosis and get infected at the best
of times," said Dr. Andrew Simor, head of
microbiology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
"Here we're talking about such a resistant strain
that the treatment is that much harder."
The 28 people – 19 Canadians and
nine people of other nationalities – either shared a
row with Speaker or were two rows in front or behind
him on Czech Airlines Flight 0104 from Prague to
Montreal on May 24. Of the Canadians, 14 were from
Quebec and five from Ontario.
Speaker said he knew he had TB when
he flew from Atlanta to Europe in mid-May for his
wedding, but that he did not find out until he was
in Rome that it was a strain considered especially
He then flew to Montreal, believing
U.S. authorities had placed him on a no-fly list. He
then drove across the border to the U.S.
XDR TB is short for
tuberculosis," a strain of TB that
resists treatment even with advanced
TB is a sometimes fatal
bacterial infection usually attacking
TB is an airborne
disease – a person with it in his or her
lungs can spread it by coughing,
sneezing or simply talking.
Poor ventilation makes
spread more likely; a compromised immune
system makes a person more susceptible.
The U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention followed
more than 2,600 people on 191 flights on
which seven highly infectious TB
patients flew between 1992 and 1994 –
only two confirmed infections were
found, and those individuals never
developed active TB.