Video: Restrictions on TB patient may ease

updated 6/4/2007 3:29:11 PM ET 2007-06-04T19:29:11

The man infected with drug-resistant tuberculosis who set off an international health scare has had two negative tests for the bacteria and could be allowed brief escorted trips outside his isolated hospital room if a third test comes back negative, a hospital official said Monday.

The patient, Andrew Speaker, is being treated at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Two tests of his sputum have been negative, meaning they have not shown the presence of TB bacteria, and results of a third test were expected late Monday or Tuesday, hospital spokesman William Allstetter said in a statement.

If the third is also negative, Speaker, 31, would be considered “relatively noncontagious” and could be allowed brief, escorted trips outside his room wearing a mask, Allstetter said.

But he stressed that such a finding would not mean Speaker cannot transmit the disease, saying the bacteria could still grow in Speaker’s lungs and sputum.

Drug-resistant TB patients who do venture outside are kept far from patients and anyone else in the community so they pose no risk of infecting others.

Meeting with doctor taped
Earlier Monday, Speaker’s parents and in-laws stressed that he would never have traveled to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon if he thought he was contagious.

“We’re in hell and we want to get out of hell,” said the man’s father, Ted Speaker.

Speaker’s parents and in-laws appeared in an interview that aired Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

His parents denied that their son was reckless.

“We are not people of reckless behavior, nor is Andrew,” said Andrew’s mother, Cheryl Speaker.

If he thought he was contagious, she said: “He would have been the first one not to go.”

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Ted Speaker said he taped a meeting in which a doctor says three times that his son was not contagious though the doctors preferred that he not fly. The elder Speaker said he will release the tape at some point.

While many people were outraged by Speaker’s actions, his father didn’t seemed worried when asked about possibly being served with a lawsuit over the case.

“If they want to serve me go ahead,” Ted Speaker said. “I am not at fault. My son is not at fault.”

Warned not to board
Before leaving last month for Europe for his wedding and honeymoon, Speaker has said he was advised by Fulton County, Ga., health authorities that he was not contagious or a danger to anyone. Officials told him they would prefer he didn’t fly, but no one ordered him not to, he said.

Speaker was in Europe when he learned tests showed he had not just TB, but an extremely drug-resistant strain known as XDR.

Despite warnings from federal health officials not to board another long flight, he flew home for treatment, fearing he wouldn’t survive if he didn’t reach the U.S., he said.

The family said that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official told them the only way for him to get back to America from Italy would be to hire a private plane.

But the parents said they are not rich and could not have easily afforded a private jet.

“We work hard,” said Betsy Cooksey, a school teacher and mother of Andrew Speaker’s new bride, Sarah. “We’re not in careers that are high paying.”

Speaker’s father-in-law, Robert Cooksey, works for the CDC, where he specializes in tuberculosis and other bacteria.

“It’s the height of irony,” he said of the situation.

Robert Cooksey also reiterated that Andrew Speaker did not get the illness from him.

Andrew Speaker was quarantined May 25, after his return from his honeymoon, in the first such action taken by the federal government since 1963. After being hospitalized in Atlanta, he was flown to Denver on Thursday for treatment.

Speaker was taking antibiotics to battle a tennis-ball-size infection in his lung. Doctors said his treatment could include surgery to remove the infected tissue if the drugs don’t work.

Tests so far indicate Speaker’s risk of spreading the infection are low, doctors said.

Eleven people who were on an eight-hour flight to Paris with Speaker have tested negative for the disease, health officials in South Carolina said Monday. More than two dozen University of South Carolina Aiken business students were on the flight.

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