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Plane passengers sue TB patient

  • Story Highlights
  • Eight people on flight with Andrew Speaker sue him for $1.3 million
  • Lawsuit is filed in Canada, where plane carrying litigants landed
  • Georgia health officials say they recommended Speaker avoid travel
  • Patient's diagnosis downgraded to a less dangerous strain of disease
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(CNN) -- Eight people who shared a flight with tuberculosis-infected traveler Andrew Speaker on May 24 filed suit Thursday against him in a Canadian court.

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

Canadian Press reported the suit, filed in Quebec Superior Court, seeks $1.3 million (Canadian $1.4 million) in damages.

Speaker, a 31-year-old Atlanta, Georgia, lawyer, caused an international uproar when he disregarded doctors' advice and traveled abroad to get married, potentially exposing his fellow passengers to the disease.

Speaking with CNN from a hospital in Denver, Colorado, where he is undergoing treatment, Speaker said he is aware of the pending litigation but has not heard from his attorney in Montreal, Canada.

"I am not some trust-fund baby, and there is nothing to go after," he said.

Rosalind Yee -- an attorney for the plaintiffs who said her clients include a ninth person related to one of the passengers but who was not on the flight -- said all eight passengers have undergone TB tests since they returned home.

One of them, a 72-year-old man, tested positive for TB on a skin test, though it was not clear that Speaker was the source. The man's X-rays were normal, she said, and he is awaiting results of further tests.

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

Speaker and his fiancee flew to Europe May 12, despite warnings from the Fulton County Health Department in Georgia that he should not fly because he was infected with a multidrug-resistant strain of the bacteria called MDR-TB.

Once there, the CDC said, test results back in Georgia indicated he had a rare, more serious strain of the tuberculosis bacilli called extensively drug-resistant TB, or XDR-TB.

That news led U.S. public health officials to try to persuade Speaker to turn himself in to Italian health authorities so that he would not risk infecting others.

Speaker has said he disregarded their recommendation and returned to North America on a commercial flight from Prague to Montreal because he had been told he was not infectious, he could not afford to hire a private plane, and he was afraid that, if he were to remain in Italy, he would not be able to get the cutting-edge treatment available in the United States.

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

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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.

Doctors at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver have since determined that Speaker is infected with MDR-TB, not the more serious XDR-TB. The CDC says the change in diagnosis would not have affected their recommendations regarding travel. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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