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Quarantined TB patient is the son-in-law of a CDC microbiologist

ATLANTA — One thing is clear about the honeymooner who put airline passengers at risk of getting an especially dangerous strain of tuberculosis: He can’t claim ignorance.
    Andrew Speaker didn’t just have doctors’ warnings against flying to Europe, and again against flying back. As a personal injury lawyer, he presumably knew something about the dangers of reckless behavior.
    And most amazingly, Speaker has a new father-in-law with a vast knowledge of the disease he carried aboard two trans-Atlantic flights.
    Bob Cooksey, a CDC microbiologist specializing in TB and other bacteria, said he gave his 31-year-old son-in-law some ‘‘fatherly advice’’ when he learned the young man had contracted the disease. He would not comment on whether he reported his son-in-law to federal health authorities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not explain how the case came to their attention.
    Some travelers who flew on the same flights as Speaker angrily accused him of putting hundreds of other people’s lives in danger.
    ‘‘It’s still very scary,’’ 21-year-old Laney Wiggins, one of more than two dozen University of South Carolina-Aiken students who are getting skin tests because they were on the same flight. ‘‘That is an outrageous number of people that he was very reckless with their health. It’s not fair. It’s selfish.’’
    Speaker went to a New York hospital May 25 before he was flown to the CDC in Atlanta, and is now under quarantine at a hospital in Denver. He is the first infected person to be quarantined by the U.S. government since 1963.
    Speaker said in a newspaper interview that he knew he had TB when he flew from Atlanta to Europe in mid-May for his wedding and honeymoon, but that he did not find out until he was already in Rome that it was an extensively drug-resistant strain considered especially dangerous.
    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.
    ‘‘I’m a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person,’’ he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ‘‘This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I’ve cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing.’’
    The Homeland Security Department is investigating how Speaker was allowed back into the U.S. on May 24, after he flew to Canada to avoid being stopped by U.S. health officials.
    Along the border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., an inspector ran Speaker’s passport through a computer, and a warning — including instructions to hold the traveler, don a protective mask in dealing with him, and telephone health authorities — popped up, officials said.
    About a minute later, Speaker was instead cleared to continue on his journey, according to officials familiar with the records.
    The inspector has been removed from border duty.
    The unidentified inspector explained that he was no doctor but that the infected man seemed perfectly healthy and that he thought the warning was merely ‘‘discretionary,’’ officials briefed on the case told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is still under investigation.
    Colleen Kelley, president of the union that represents customs and border agents, declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said ‘‘public health issues were not receiving adequate attention and training’’ within the agency.
    On Thursday, a tan and healthy-looking Speaker was flown from Atlanta to Denver, accompanied by his wife and federal marshals, to Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center, where doctors planned to isolate him and treat him with oral and intravenous antibiotics.
    Dr. Charles Daley, chief of the hospital’s infectious-disease division, said he is optimistic Speaker can be cured because he is believed to be in the early stages of the disease.
    Dr. Gwen Huitt of National Jewish described Speaker as ‘‘a young, healthy individual’’ who is ‘‘doing extremely well.’’
    ‘‘By conventional methods that we traditionally use in the public health arena ... he would be considered low infectivity at this point in time,’’ she said. ‘‘He is not coughing, he is healthy, he does not have a fever.’’
    Doctors hope also to determine where he contracted the disease, which has been found around the world and exists in pockets in Russia and Asia.
    He will be kept in a special unit with a ventilation system to prevent the escape of germs. ‘‘He may not leave that room much for several weeks,’’ hospital spokesman William Allstetter said.
    Speaker’s father-in-law has worked at the CDC for 32 years and is in the Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, where he works with TB and other organisms. He has co-authored papers on diabetes, TB and other infectious diseases.
    ‘‘As part of my job, I am regularly tested for TB. I do not have TB, nor have I ever had TB,’’ he said in a statement. ‘‘My son-in-law’s TB did not originate from myself or the CDC’s labs, which operate under the highest levels of biosecurity.’’
    In a brief telephone interview with the AP, Cooksey said he gave Speaker ‘‘fatherly advice’’ when he learned the young man had contracted the disease. He did not say when that was.
    ‘‘I’m hoping and praying that he’s getting the proper treatment, that my daughter is holding up mentally and physically,’’ Cooksey said. ‘‘Had I known that my daughter was in any risk, I would not allow her to travel.’’
    According to a biography posted on a Web site connected with Speaker’s law firm, the young lawyer attended the U.S. Naval Academy, graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in finance, then attended University of Georgia’s law school. He is in private practice with his father, Ted Speaker, an unsuccessful candidate for a judgeship in 2004.
    Andrew Speaker recently moved from an upscale condominium complex in anticipation of his wedding, former neighbors said. He also wrote in an application to become a board member of his condo association that he was going to Vietnam for five weeks as part of the Rotary Club to act as an ambassador.
    His wife, Sarah, is a third-year law student at Atlanta’s Emory University.
    ‘‘He’s a great guy. Gregarious,’’ said Pam Hood, a former neighbor. ‘‘He’s a wonderful guy. Just a very, very pleasant man.’’
    Health officials in North America and Europe are now trying to track down about 80 passengers who sat near him on the two trans-Atlantic flights, and they want passenger lists from four shorter flights he took while in Europe.
    However, other passengers are not considered at high risk of infection because tests indicated the amount of TB bacteria in Speaker was low, said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine.
    Health law experts said Speaker could be sued if others contract the disease.
    ‘‘There are a number of cases that say a person who negligently transmits an infectious disease could be held liable,’’ said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University. ‘‘So long as he knew it was infectious, and knew about the appropriate behavior but failed to comply, he could be held liable.’’
    Speaker told the Journal-Constitution that he wasn’t coughing and that doctors initially did not order him not to fly and only suggested he put off his long-planned wedding. ‘‘We headed off to Greece thinking everything’s fine,’’ he told the newspaper.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan and Devlin Barrett in Washington; Mike Stobbe in Atlanta; Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C.; and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report, along with AP news researcher Judy Ausuebel in New York.
    ———
    On the Net:
    CDC: http://www.cdc.gov
    Public Health Agency of Canada: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/

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