TB Patient Identified as Atlanta Lawyer

Andrew Speaker
Andrew Speaker

ATLANTA (AP) -- The honeymooner quarantined with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis was identified Thursday as a 31-year-old Atlanta personal injury lawyer whose new father-in-law is a CDC microbiologist specializing in the spread of TB and other bacteria.

Bob Cooksey would not comment on whether he reported his son-in-law, 31-year-old Andrew Speaker, to federal health authorities. He said only that he gave Speaker "fatherly advice" when he learned the young man had contracted the disease.

In a statement issued through the CDC, Cooksey also said that neither he nor his CDC laboratory was the source of his son-in-law's TB.

The CDC had no immediate comment on how the case came to the attention of federal health authorities.

"I'm hoping and praying that he's getting the proper treatment, that my daughter is holding up mentally and physically," Cooksey told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Had I known that my daughter was in any risk, I would not allow her to travel."

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.

He was quarantined May 25, after his return from his honeymoon, in the first such action taken by the federal government since 1963.

On Thursday, he was flown from Atlanta to Denver, accompanied by his wife and federal marshals, to be treated at Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center.

He looked healthy and tan when he arrived, and "he said he still felt fine," hospital spokesman William Allstetter said. The chief of the hospital's infectious-disease division said that he is optimistic Speaker can be cured, because he is believed to be in the early stages of the disease.

Doctors planned to begin treating him immediately with two antibiotics, one oral and one intravenous. He also will undergo a test to evaluate how infectious he is and a CT scan and lung X-ray, Allstetter said.

Doctors hope to also 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," Allstetter said.

Cooksey was worked at the CDC for 32 years and is in the CDC's Division of Tuberculosis Elimination, where he works with TB and other organisms. He has co-authored papers on diabetes, TB and other infectious diseases. He recently co-authored a report on a bacteria outbreak in bone marrow transplant and oncology patients in a hospital water supply.

"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."

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.

Among those being tested are more than two dozen University of South Carolina Aiken students, school spokeswoman Jennifer Lake said. Two were apparently sitting near him, possibly in the same row, she said.

One of those students, Laney Wiggins, said she is awaiting her skin test results, expected Friday.

"I'm very nervous," Wiggins told The (Columbia) State newspaper. "It's kind of sad that this is overshadowing the wonderful time we had in Europe."

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 Atlanta 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.

Dr. Charles Daley, head of infectious disease at National Jewish Hospital, said the hospital has treated two other patients with what appears to be the same strain of TB since 2000. He said the patients had improved enough to be released.

"With drug-resistant tuberculosis, it's quite a challenge to treat this," Daley told CNN. "The cure rate that's been reported in other places is very low. It's about 30 percent for XDR-TB."

"This is a different patient, though. We're told that this is very early in the course, and most of the time when we get patients that it's very extensive and very far advanced. So I think we're more optimistic," he said. "We're aiming for cure. We know it's an uphill battle, but we hope to get there."

Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington; Mike Stobbe in Atlanta; and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report, along with AP news researcher Judy Ausuebel in New York.