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Tuberculosis Patient Says He Was Never Barred from Travel

Andrew Speaker, the Atlanta lawyer diagnosed with a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, told a Senate panel Wednesday via phone that doctors did not explicitly warn him not to travel, though health officials disagreed. The NewsHour reports on the hearing.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Committees of the House and Senate took up the case today of the globetrotting tuberculosis patient who set off an international health scare last week. A Senate Subcommittee on Health was the first to look into how Andrew Speaker, who is infected with extensively drug-resistant TB, was able to leave the U.S. and travel throughout Europe for his wedding and honeymoon last month.

    Both federal and local health officials said they told Speaker, a 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer, early last month that he had a drug-resistant form of TB and urged him not to travel. Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control, testified that, while more aggressive measures could have been taken, officials lacked the authority to prohibit Speaker from flying.

    JULIE GERBERDING, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The local public health officials assessed the risk. They determined that it was not zero. They recommended measures to protect others. And, basically, in the vast majority of situations like this, they operate under a covenant of trust.

    They give advice to the patient. They explain what needs to be done to provide protection. Patients generally cooperate. As I said, almost all of them cooperate with that experience. And, certainly, in my own experience, I've never been in a situation where we were as surprised to see a patient choose a different route.

    In Georgia, if a patient is to be isolated in an involuntary manner, it takes a court order, and the patient must first demonstrate that he is not compliant with medical advice. So the state could not issue such an order until the patient actually did something that was against medical advice; that's the way the laws in Georgia are written.

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