U.S. to Probe Role of CDC Expert in TB Saga

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Sunday, June 3, 2007; 12:00 AM

SUNDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials will be probing the role played by a government microbiologist in his son-in-law's trans-Atlantic travels with a highly infectious form of tuberculosis.

In a statement released late Saturday, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency would be reviewing the actions of Robert C. Cooksey, a CDC TB expert, in the international saga involving Atlanta lawyer Andrew Speaker.

Speaker, who is now isolated in the TB ward at Denver's National Jewish Medical Center, flew to Europe and back last month for his wedding, even though he had "extensively drug-resistant" TB, also called XDR-TB.

Speaker's father-in-law had issued a terse statement Thursday through the CDC, denying that he knew of his new son-in-law's travel plans.

"As part of my job, I am regularly tested for TB. I do not have TB, nor have I ever had TB. My son-in-law's TB did not originate from myself or the CDC's labs, which operate under the highest levels of biosecurity," said Cooksey, a research microbiologist who has worked at the CDC for 32 years.

Speaker, a 31-year-old personal injury lawyer, insisted in a televised interview Friday that he was never told by health officials he was contagious, and apologized to passengers who shared the airline flights with him last month.

In its Saturday statement, the CDC said it had contacted 160 of the 292 U.S. citizens who were on the May 12 Atlanta-to-Paris flight with Speaker. That includes 26 people who sat in five rows around him, the CDC said.

The CDC said that earlier reports of 310 U.S. citizens on that flight had been updated based on duplicate names.

Meanwhile, the agency also lifted its first federal quarantine since 1963 after Denver health officials issued their own detention orders for Speaker. He is expected to be held until he is no longer contagious.

Hospital spokeswoman Geri Reinardy said Saturday that Speaker was taking antibiotics to battle a tennis-ball-size infection in his lung. Doctors said his treatment could include surgery to remove the infected tissue if the drugs don't work.

Speaker has said that he, his doctors and CDC officials all knew he had been diagnosed with XDR-TB before he left for the trip. He said he was told he wasn't infectious and did not pose a health risk to others. Health officials said they'd prefer he didn't fly, but no one ordered him not to, he said.

He said his father, also a lawyer, taped that meeting, theAssociated Pressreported.

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