Friday, June 01, 2007

What a Strange Story

I have a special interest in Tuberculosis because my father fell ill with it in the late 40's, was hospitalized for almost 4 years, left the hospital after he was told he had an exacerbation and would probably die if he left, and ultimately survived, married, and had me and my brother. The remaining relic is that I test strongly positive to exposure to TB, which actually means (so I'm told) that there is a colonization of TB bacteria in my lungs, however, as in at least 90% of infectees, it has never manifested itself as active illness.

I've been warned that in a situation where I'm immuno-compromised - such as when I'm very old, or ill for other reasons, I could become ill with that TB. Which has a quaint aspect to it, because I would become ill with a bacteria that has lain dormant in my body for at least 40 years, and that harkens back at least to the late 40's...

I'm saying this to also explain that whatever I would get, if that ever happened, would not be drug resistant TB, because those strains did not exist at that time. So I would actually be readily treatable - I think.

All this has been a long way of saying that I'm quite fascinated by the story of Andrew Speaker, the 31 year old guy who was diagnosed with highly drug resistant TB, and then proceeded to fly to Europe and back for his marriage and honeymoon, on the way, at least in theory, exposing his fellow passengers to a potentially lethal disease (lethal because it's drug resistant).

The story has several oddities for me. One is that, although Speaker was diagnosed with TB back in February, it was only recently that it was found that this is drug resistant TB. Slow moving medical establishment...

Second, that Speaker's father-in-law is a specialist in TB epidemiology at the CDC.

Third, that only 56 people in the U.S. Have been diagnosed with this form of drug resistant TB.

Fourth, that the father in law and the CDC adamantly claim that they have not done any experimentation on this specific strain of TB, and therefore that Speaker could not have gotten it through a contamination from his father in law's lab. Really?

Fifth, the strange mechanism by which various national health organizations tried to chase down Speaker as he made his way through Europe and back into the U.S.

And sixth - just my thought - what do you do if you're a 31 year old, apparently healthy guy, who's been diagnosed with drug resistant TB. Do you spend the rest of your life wearing a face mask? In a negatively pressurized


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