June 3, 2007 / 2:52 PM / 13 years ago

Officials seek links in fugitive TB patient case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. officials are looking for any possible link between the lawyer isolated after flying across Europe and the Atlantic with dangerous form of tuberculosis and his father-in-law, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tuberculosis researcher.

Andrew Speaker is pictured in this undated photograph, released by the University of Georgia School of Law on May 31, 2007. REUTERS/University of Georgia School of Law/Handout

Denver health officials have officially detained Andrew Speaker, 31, who is being treated at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center for extensively drug resistant tuberculosis, XDR TB for short. It will take months or even years of intensive antibiotic therapy and perhaps surgery to treat, doctors said.

The Denver detention order allowed a rare federal order to isolate him to be lifted, officials said. Last month, the CDC invoked a federal isolation order against Speaker, the first in 44 years, after he flew across Europe against public health advice.

Anyone who sat close to Speaker for a prolonged time should be tested for TB, the CDC and the World Health Organization said.

In a statement issued late on Saturday the CDC said it had directly spoken to 160 of the 292 U.S. residents or citizens who were on board an Air France/Delta flight that Speaker took to Paris from Atlanta on May 12.

Officials in Europe said they were contacting their nationals who were on the flights.

Doctors said Speaker was not especially contagious, but 17 percent of cases of tuberculosis have been transmitted by people not identified as highly contagious.

“The Denver Health Authority Public Health Department has issued an order that requires that the patient be detained at National Jewish Medical and Research Center until further laboratory tests indicate that he is no longer contagious,” the CDC said.

“Since the order by local public health authorities puts in place measures that are sufficient to protect the public’s health, the federal isolation order that has been used to ensure the patient remains in medical isolation is no longer in place,” it added.

Last week Speaker’s father-in-law, Robert Cooksey, revealed he has worked at the CDC for 32 years in the Division of Tuberculosis.

“CDC will be undertaking a number of reviews related to this XDR TB case. One aspect of this review will be looking at how the CDC employee who is related (Speaker’s father-in-law) to the patient was involved in this matter,” the CDC said.

Tuberculosis infects about a third of the world’s population and kills 1.6 million a year. Most cases are latent, and even people with active disease can show no symptoms of illness, such as Speaker.

But any person with active TB can spread the bacteria to others.

“After exposure, it usually takes 8 to 10 weeks before the TB test would show if someone had become infected,” the CDC said.

The U.S. Congress has scheduled hearings this week to ask how Speaker eluded all attempts to stop him, and passed through a Canadian-U.S. border crossing despite an order to detain him.

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