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Doctors: TB traveler's diagnosis more treatable than thought

  • Story Highlights
  • Hospital says Andrew Speaker has less dangerous form of TB
  • Doctor says he does not have XDR, which is resistant to most antibiotics
  • Speaker sparked outcry when he flew from Europe after diagnosis
  • Speaker says CDC owes him an apology
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The Georgia lawyer whose travels while suffering from tuberculosis drew international attention has a more treatable form of the disease than the extensively drug-resistant form previously diagnosed, doctors at a Denver, Colorado, hospital announced Tuesday.

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TB patient Andrew Speaker set off an international health scare when he traveled to Europe for his wedding in May.

Dr. Charles Daley, with the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, told reporters that multiple tests indicate Andrew Speaker suffers from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which is still serious and resistant to most of the common drugs used to treat tuberculosis.

However, it can be more easily treated with antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this diagnosis is correct.

Speaker, 31, triggered an international health scare in May when he flew to Europe for his wedding and honeymoon, potentially exposing his fellow passengers to the disease. Video Watch the controversy surrounding Speaker's case »

Speaker told CNN he thinks the CDC should apologize for the frenzy caused by the initial diagnosis.

"I think they owe an apology to the people that they scared. ... They created a huge international panic. They scared millions of people around the world," he said in an interview for "Anderson Cooper 360."

Speaker expressed concerned about his reputation, and the impact the case has had on his family. "It's not right to do this to people and go after their family and pursue their personal character in a public medium if they're wrong," he said. "They created a huge international panic. They scared millions of people around the world," Speaker said of the CDC.

Daley said the new diagnosis is good news for passengers who flew with Speaker because it gives doctors more treatment options if they are infected.

The drugs used to treat MDR-TB are less toxic than those used to treat XDR-TB.

Daley said doctors have put off plans to surgically remove a tennis ball-sized mass from Speaker's lungs.

The CDC in May told Speaker he had the more serious XDR-TB, which is highly drug resistant and often requires the surgical removal of lung tissue.

The explanation for the two diagnoses is that different tests were performed in Atlanta and Denver, according to a CDC source.

Daley and Dr. Mitchell Cohen, with the CDC, explained that more than one strain of the bacteria can exist in a patient at the same time, and although XDR-TB bacteria were present in Speaker's lung tissue, the primary bacteria he has appear to be the less drug-resistant type.

TB 101

  • Tuberculosis is spread from person to person through the air. It usually affects the lungs and can lead to symptoms such as chest pain and coughing up blood. It kills nearly 2 million people each year worldwide.

  • The TB infection rate in the United States has been falling for years. Last year, it hit a low of 13,767 cases, or about 4.6 cases per 100,000 Americans.

  • Multidrug-resistant TB can withstand the antibiotics isoniazid and rifampin. Extensively drug-resistant TB, also called XDR-TB, resists many drugs used to treat the infection.

  • There have been 17 U.S. XDR-TB cases since 2000, according to the CDC.

Source: The Associated Press

Cohen stressed that MDR-TB is still a serious condition.

"MDR-TB remains difficult to treat and will require approximately two years of medication and a relatively toxic drug regimen to achieve the desired outcome. It's very different from drug-susceptible TB," Cohen said.

The difference between the two conditions has to do solely with the number of drugs available to treat it, Cohen said. The CDC "continues to recommend the follow-up and retesting of passengers and crew who traveled on the trans-Atlantic flights with the patient" to ensure their complete safety.

Speaker's TB was diagnosed before he left for Europe, but he has said Fulton County, Georgia, health authorities advised him that he was not contagious.

Speaker said officials told him they would prefer he didn't fly, but no one ordered him not to. He was in Europe, he said, when he was told he had an extremely drug-resistant strain of the disease known as XDR. People with XDR-TB are resistant to first- and second-line drugs; their treatment options are limited and the disease can be fatal.

U.S. public health officials tried to persuade Speaker to turn himself in to Italian health authorities.

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 United States, he said. Family members said that a CDC official told them the only way for him to get back to America from Italy would be to hire a private plane. But the parents said they could not have easily afforded a private jet.

On May 24, Speaker was allowed to cross from Canada into the United States at Champlain, New York, despite a warning from the CDC that he posed a public health threat and that a CDC doctor should be alerted if Speaker were to seek entry.

The Customs and Border Protection officer said he let Speaker enter the country because the man did not appear sick. The officer was suspended and later retired.

Speaker was quarantined May 25, after his return from his honeymoon. After being hospitalized in Atlanta, he was flown to National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver for treatment.

Speaker's father-in-law, Robert Cooksey, works for the CDC, where he specializes in tuberculosis and other bacteria. Robert Cooksey said Speaker did not get the illness from him.

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Between 1993 and 2006, 49 cases of XDR-TB were diagnosed in the United States, said Dr. Ken Castro, director of the division of TB Elimination at the CDC.

The disease is more common elsewhere, he said. "When they looked, they found it in every single continent of the world," he said. The World Health Organization estimates that there were almost half a million cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis worldwide in 2004. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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