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American Who Set Off TB Scare Apologizes, Lung Surgery an Option for Him

The 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer who has riveted the attention of the entire US media for a few days now has profusely apologized for unwittingly exposing fellow air passengers to a much feared strain of TB.

Meanwhile his doctors are holding up the possibility of surgically removing the infected tissue from his lung.

"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, speaking through a face mask, told ABC's "Good Morning America" from his hospital room in Denver.

"I don't expect those people to ever forgive me. I just hope they understand that I truly never meant them any harm," he added, his voice cracking.

Speaker was told he had TB in January, but doctors did not realise that his strain, known as XDR-TB, was extensively drug-resistant until May. He then boarded a commercial flight to Paris on May 12, and another to Greece for his wedding and Italy for his honeymoon.

On May 18, officials told him they would prefer he didn't fly, but no one ordered him not to, he said. 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,'" Speaker said.

"I never would have put my family at risk, and my daughter at risk. I repeatedly asked my doctors, 'Is my family at risk? Is anybody at risk of this?'" he said.

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

And despite a specific warning the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention not to fly on commercial planes, he chose to take a commercial a flight to Mo ntreal and then drove across the US border on May 24 at Champlain, New York.

He said that he took the risk of exposing others to the strain because he feared he would die if he remained in Europe without the treatment available back home. He also felt that the CDC was abandoning him to his fate.

Speaker's new father-in-law, Robert C. Cooksey, is a CDC microbiologist whose specialty is TB and other bacteria. He said neither he nor his CDC lab was the source of Speaker's TB.

Cooksey said he provided only "fatherly advice" to Speaker about traveling with the illness.

"In my capacity as his future father-in-law, I told him to take care of my daughter," Cooksey said.

Cooksey may have been involved in preparing one of the lab tests that determined what type of TB Speaker had contracted and helped track down the honeymooning couple, CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding said. But she declined to provide more details on Cooksey's involvement in the case, and would not comment on the propriety of his actions.

Interestingly the mayor of the island of Santorini in Greece, Angelos Rousso, denied Speakers marriage took place at all. He told agencies, "There was no wedding. They came for a marriage but they did not have the required papers." He said the couple stayed in a hotel for three days and then left.

Meantime Speaker's doctors in Denver said that he could be in the hospital for up to two months, and that if antibiotics fail to knock out the extremely drug-resistant infection, he may have to undergo surgery to remove infected lung tissue, about the size of a tennis ball.

Surgery to remove pieces of the lung was more common before the advent of sophisticated drugs in the 1960s. But it is coming back as a treatment because of the development of strains resistant to those drugs.

Doctors hope to determine where Speaker contracted the disease, which has been found around the worl d and exists in pockets in Russia and Asia.

The tuberculosis was discovered when Speaker had a chest X-ray in January for a rib injury.


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