Attorney has less severe form of tuberculosis than previously thought, official says

** FILE ** This file handout photo released by the Public Affairs Office of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, shows tuberculosis patient Andrew Speaker in his isolation room at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Wedn Phil Collins

AP

** FILE ** This file handout photo released by the Public Affairs Office of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, shows tuberculosis patient Andrew Speaker in his isolation room at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Wedn Phil Collins

By Mike Stobbe

ATLANTA – The globe-trotting American lawyer who caused an international public health incident by traveling while infected with tuberculosis has a less severe form of the disease than previously diagnosed, a federal health official said Tuesday.

Andrew Speaker was diagnosed in May with extensively drug resistant TB, based on a CDC analysis of a bronchoscopy sample taken in March. The XDR-TB, as it is called, is considered dangerously difficult to treat.

But a series of sputum samples have all shown his TB to be a milder form of the disease, multidrug-resistant TB, a federal health official said on a condition of anonymity because a formal announcement was planned later Tuesday.

Multidrug-resistant TB can be treated with some antibiotics that the more severe form resists.

Officials at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center, where Speaker is being treated, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Earlier Tuesday, hospital spokesman William Allstetter said the reclassification related to drugs that had been tested to treat Speaker’s tuberculosis. He said doctors would announce changes in Speaker’s treatment regime at an afternoon news conference.

Speaker was originally diagnosed with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis – which can withstand mainline antibiotics used to treat TB – before he left for a wedding and honeymoon in Europe. While there, he learned he had extremely drug-resistant TB, which resists even more drugs.

Federal health officials said Speaker ignored their warnings to seek help in Europe. Instead, Speaker and his wife returned to North America on a commercial flight through Canada and he was briefly placed under federal quarantine.

The incident prompted a hunt for passengers on the cross-Atlantic flights taken by Speaker so they could be tested for the disease.

Doctors at National Jewish had previously announced Speaker would undergo surgery in July to remove infected lung tissue, a practice sometimes used when drugs can’t completely kill a TB infection. Allstetter wouldn’t say if the surgery was still planned.

Speaker’s case set off an international scare, with Congress holding a hearing on the Centers for Disease Control’s handling of his case and investigators focusing on the role Speaker’s father-in-law, who works for the CDC.