- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

DENVER (AP) — The Atlanta lawyer quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis apologized to fellow airline passengers in an interview aired yesterday, and insisted he was told before he set out for his wedding in Europe that he was no danger to anyone.

“I’ve lived in this state of constant fear and anxiety and exhaustion for a week now, and to think that someone else is now feeling that, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way. It’s awful,” Andrew Speaker, talkingthrough a face mask, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” from his hospital room in Denver.

Mr. Speaker’s doctors said he could be in the hospital for up to two months and, if antibiotics fail to knock out the extremely drug-resistant infection, he may have to undergo surgery to remove infected lung tissue.

Mr. Speaker is the first infected person quarantined by the U.S. government since 1963. In the TV interview, he repeatedly apologized to the dozens of airline passengers and crew members now anxiously awaiting the results of their TB tests.

“I don’t expect for people to ever forgive me. I just hope that they understand that I truly never meant to put them in harm,” he said, his voice cracking.

Mr. Speaker, 31, said he, his doctors and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all knew he had TB that was resistant to front-line drugs before he flew to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon last month. But he said he was advised at the time 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. Mr. Speaker said his father, also a lawyer, taped that meeting.

“My father said, ‘OK, now are you saying, prefer not to go on the trip because he’s a risk to anybody, or are you simply saying that to cover yourself?’ And they said, ‘We have to tell you that to cover ourself, but he’s not a risk,’ ” Mr. Speaker said.

Mr. Speaker was in Europe when he learned tests showed he had, not just TB, but an especially dangerous, extensively drug-resistant strain.

“He was told in no uncertain terms not to take a flight back,” said Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine. Mr. Cetron said Wednesday that in conversations between health officials and Mr. Speaker before the flight, “they clearly told him not to travel,” but “there were no legal orders in place preventing his travel, and no laws were broken.”

Mr. Speaker, his new wife and her 8-year-old daughter were already in Europe when the CDC contacted him and told him to turn himself in immediately at a clinic there and not take another commercial flight.

He said he felt as if the CDC had suddenly “abandoned him.” At that point, he said, he believed if he didn’t get to the specialized clinic in Denver, he would die. If doctors in Europe tried to treat him and it went wrong, he said, “it’s very real that I could have died there.”

CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding yesterday defended the CDC’s move to quarantine Mr. Speaker, and said the agency had been exploring options — including hiring an air ambulance or a ship — so that Mr. Speaker could return to the U.S. without having to board a commercial airliner. Mr. Speaker ultimately decided to take a commercial flight back from Europe.

“That’s another thing we’ll be focusing on in the future: Can we create a protocol so that if such a thing happens again, we don’t have to invent a solution?” she said.

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