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TB patient questions CDC timeline

/ Source: The Associated Press

The globe-trotting tuberculosis patient said Thursday he would have canceled his wedding trip to Europe and gone into isolation if federal health officials had told him to after he was diagnosed with a dangerous form of the disease.

“There’s still this perception that I was acting irresponsibly and the CDC didn’t do anything wrong,” Andrew Speaker said in a telephone interview from a Colorado hospital, where he has been under treatment for a month.

On Tuesday, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver said recent tests showed that the Atlanta lawyer has a more treatable, multidrug-resistant strain of TB, rather than an extensively drug-resistant form.

The extensively drug-resistant form led officials to place him under the first federal quarantine order since 1963. Dr. Mitchell Cohen of the CDC has said the public health response should be the same to both forms.

If a multidrug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB, diagnosis calls for a patient to be isolated, Speaker asked, why wasn’t he?

“There should be a process on how to handle it. If I should be isolated, I’m fine with that, if they told me,” Speaker said. “You don’t go out after the fact and blame the patient for what you told them.”

Efforts to reach two CDC spokesmen were unsuccessful Thursday night.

In late May, CDC officials noted the so-called XDR-TB diagnosis was an important factor in deciding to issue the federal quarantine order. They also said Speaker’s repeated noncompliance was a major factor. They said that, in essence, they couldn’t trust him to stay off commercial flights or follow their other directives.

Speaker said he was told in a meeting with Fulton County officials on May 10 that he was not contagious, and that he was never ordered not to travel. Health authorities say he was told that he was not “highly” contagious and that they advised him not to fly to Europe.

On Thursday, he accused the CDC of trying to distort the timeline to cover up the fact that he was not ordered into isolation before May 10. He insisted he had followed instructions. “When I was in Rome, and they told me I had XDR and that I had to cancel my trip, I canceled my trip,” he said.

He acknowledged that he did not abide by CDC officials’ wishes to turn himself in to health authorities in Italy, but instead took a flight back to North America. He has said in the past he feared for his life at that point and wanted to make his way back to get to the Denver hospital.