Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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Did you hear that the man who was infected with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is an affluent marital and personal-injury attorney? It turns out that this selfish, idiotic dope who should know better, went on his honeymoon through Europe, knowing he had TB. While overseas, the infected man, Andrew Speaker (pictured right; image source), exposed hundreds of people to his very dangerous strain of TB before finally returning to the United States — against federal health officials’ warnings — by driving across the Canadian border because he was on this nation’s “no fly” list. Upon reaching NY, he was placed in forced isolation and moved to Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Even more amazing, Speaker’s new father-in-law is a microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) who specializes in studying the epidemiology of TB.

Why did this guy fly all over Europe and then return on a long trans-Atlantic flight from overseas, knowing the nature of his disease and that he would expose everyone on each plane to it? According to Speaker, he feared he wouldn’t survive if he didn’t reach the US — yet he still managed to travel all over Europe during his honeymoon. Further, despite his so-called fear, he was healthy and tan when he arrived, and “he said he still felt fine,” according to hospital spokesman William Allstetter.

Unfortunately, because he was being a typical self-absorbed American, health officials in North America and Europe are now trying to find about 80 passengers who sat near him on his two trans-Atlantic flights, and they want passenger lists from four shorter flights he took while in Europe.

Thin section transmission electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Image: Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health

TB is a common and deadly infectious disease among the poor and throughout many Third-World countries. It is caused by several species of mycobacteria, primarily Mycobacterium tuberculosis (pictured above). TB most commonly infects the lungs but can also affect a variety of other organ systems, such as the central nervous system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the genitourinary system, bones, joints and even skin. If left untreated, TB kills more than 50% of its victims. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is defined as being resistant to the two most effective anti-TB drugs: rifampicin and isoniazid. In addition to those two antibiotics, extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is also resistant to three or more of the six classes of second-line anti-TB drugs. There have been 17 XDR-TB cases in the USA since 2000, according to CDC statistics.

“With drug-resistant tuberculosis, it’s quite a challenge to treat this,” said Dr. Charles Daley, head of infectious disease at National Jewish Hospital. “The cure rate that’s been reported in other places is very low. It’s about 30 percent for XDR-TB.”

“I’m a very well-educated, successful, intelligent person,” Speaker whined. “This is insane to me that I have an armed guard outside my door when I’ve cooperated with everything other than the whole solitary-confinement-in-Italy thing.”

So why didn’t Speaker just stay in the hospital in Rome and receive treatment there until he was no longer infectious, as he was advised by the CDC? I guess this guy is just another one of those truly stupid and irresponsible people who doesn’t care about anyone but himself.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris' Wills
    May 31, 2007

    Grrl, you do realise that you’ll be slated for the title of this post?

    1) I do hope that everyone who this idiot has been within 100m of and everyone who has been in contact with them sues him for everything he has. If only for the stress & worry he has caused them. I also hope that he hasn’t become a TB Mary.

    2) I do hope that he goes to jail, he must have broken some law or other.

    3) Anyone want to bet if he is a YEC?

  2. #2 Josh
    May 31, 2007

    So… what does all of that have to do with his “white man credentials”? Do non-whites have a monopoly on selfish, stupid behavior?

  3. #3 Diane in Ohio
    May 31, 2007

    If he recovers – I agree,strip him of his credentials and sue for malicious endangerment. What an a*s to expose with acknowlegement of TB. I’m curious about the new wifey & what her tests reveal…hmmmmmm.

  4. #4 Tim
    May 31, 2007

    Let’s call him Typhoid Wanker.

  5. #5 "GrrlScientist"
    May 31, 2007

    no, no, no, Josh, i simply meant that affluent whites with adequate health care rarely get TB, especially XDR-TB.

  6. #6 klyde
    May 31, 2007

    He should certainly have his white man credentials revoked cuz only a darkie or a wog would do something like that.

  7. #7 razib
    May 31, 2007

    i think everyone knows what grrlscientist means that has ever read her. of course, i pray for you grrl if you get a digg or reddit link, cuz they ain’t gonna look past the title ;-)

  8. #8 cephyn
    May 31, 2007

    reddit has picked it up. And for the record, I read grrl and i didn’t get the joke/reference. 8/

  9. #9 "GrrlScientist"
    May 31, 2007

    well, sigh. i guess i am being too obscure as i attempt irony with some of the titles for my entries.

  10. #10 unimpressed
    May 31, 2007

    “White man credentials”? Nice. Not.

    Or are you one of those hipsters who thinks that “ironic” racism is, you know, cool?

  11. #11 Baratos
    May 31, 2007

    I would like to congratulate you for the most inadvertently offensive title I have seen on this site.

  12. #12 Chris' Wills
    May 31, 2007

    …According to Speaker, he feared he wouldn’t survive if he didn’t reach the US…

    We do have medicine & hospitals in Europe!!
    We even treat people without first checking their wallets.

    Is this idiot under the impression that anything outside the USA is devoid of medical facilities, perhaps as he coughed his way around Europe he failed to notice the buildings with signs on them saying hospital.

    Personally I think he should have his passport revoked, I don’t think that he’ll be very welcome in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.

  13. #13 Don Thieme
    May 31, 2007

    He definitely is educated. He got both his bachelor’s in finance and his law degree here at the University of Georgia, the latter after a failed stab at Naval Officers School in Annapolis. Well, he is educated.

  14. #14 Carlie
    May 31, 2007

    It also turns out that his own father-in-law is a scientist who works at the CDC – on tuberculosis. It’s being looked into whether there is any way possible that he picked it up via the lab research, although it’s a slim chance given the health precautions in place. Either way, he really, really, really should have known better. This case makes me so angry; several years ago my grandfather got TB and he was quarantined at home for a couple of months while they waited to find out what strain he had. It was horrible for him, it was awful for my mother, who had to do all of his errands and shopping, but they did it, because they were decent people and refused to risk infecting anyone else. This guy is a jerk.

  15. #15 AJ
    May 31, 2007

    This guy is soooo arrogant. It is incredible to me that he believes that since he is “well-educated” he should get a pass for his selfish, self-centered behavior. Even if the risk of transmission was low, how does he know if someone on one of his flights was immune-system compromised?

  16. #16 frank fersch
    June 1, 2007

    This person is an insult to the gene pool. He should be executed for risking a catastrophy. Pain and suffering lawyers are the scum of the earth . With over 6 billion people on the planet who is he to put everyone else at risk?

  17. #17 Fred Ross
    June 1, 2007

    I work in a tuberculosis lab. If his father-in-law is an epidemiologist for the CDC, he may not handle isolates at all. Even if he does handle isolates, unless this guy went to his father-in-law’s lab, entered the biohazard facility (which requires keycard access), then went through two antechambers, and stuck his head in an active isolation hood, he probably didn’t get it that way. We wear full body suits and respirator masks, yes, but the first line of defense in the lab is our technique, which shouldn’t produce aerosols of bacteria at all, and after that the isolation hood should catch most of it. The protective gear and progressively more negative air pressure as you go through rooms closer and closer to where active work is done are backups.

    And we don’t bring work home. Ever.

    If the disease is latent (tuberculosis can sit latent for years), his wife is probably not infected. I know in Canada at least, having sex with someone when you carry HIV and not informing them of that fact counts as assault. This is the same thing, except that being in the same room counts as assault.

    Oh, and tuberculosis is essentially always caused by M. tuberculosis. M. bovis is the most closely related organism, and is generally only picked up from infected cattle and not transmitted too far. Other mycobacteria can cause disease (leprosy’s a near relative, actually), including tuberculosis equivalents in a variety of species from fish to birds, and even a rather nasty infection of amoebas, and assorted strange lymph node infections in humans, but M. tuberculosis is far and away the preeminent pathogen of the family today.

  18. #18 Bob O'H
    June 1, 2007

    …and even a rather nasty infection of amoebas…

    Now, now, don’t leave us in the dark. Enquiring minds want to know what a nasty infection looks like in an amoeba. Extensive research leads me to conclude that it makes them behave like a Nelder-Mead algorithm.

    Bob

  19. #19 Martin R
    June 1, 2007

    I like the way he argues that him being a successful lawyer is a reason for society to trust him.

  20. #20 csrster
    June 1, 2007

    He’s probably broken lots of laws in Italy, Greece, Canada etc. but can you see any of those places wanting to extradite him? Please just keep him in America, thank you.

  21. #21 Phil
    June 1, 2007

    So now his wife will divorce him, then he can audition for “The Bachelor, a TB Patient and a Spoiled Brat”

  22. #22 SLC
    June 1, 2007

    Quite frankly, I think it not be out of line to charge this cretin with attempted murder. That would be the charge in a number of jurisdictions if a knowingly HIV positive man had unprotected sex.

  23. #23 Barry_S
    June 4, 2007

    All of you are pretty quick to jump all over this guy without knowing the full story. What a shameful mob mentality. It’s still unclear exactly what message Speaker got from public health authorities and you’re ready to press attempted homicide charges (or worse) for what might be a lapse of judgement in a very grey area?

    Maybe there’s someone that reads this blog, that might want to explore the intersection of public health, risk, personal liberty and legal issues. This a science blog? Really?

    Regards,

    “…typical self-absorbed American.”

  24. #24 Chris' Wills
    June 4, 2007

    All of you are pretty quick to jump all over this guy without knowing the full story. What a shameful mob mentality. It’s still unclear exactly what message Speaker got from public health authorities and you’re ready to press attempted homicide charges (or worse) for what might be a lapse of judgement in a very grey area?….
    Posted by: Barry_S

    We are terrible aren’t we, a lapse of judgement you say. A rather well orchestrated lapse.

    He is told to stay put in Italy by the authorities and told why.
    His travel by air into the US is blocked so he sneaks in via Canada.
    He also knew he had TB before he left.

    This man is educated, he knowingly did what he had been told not to do by the authorities so knowingly putting others in possible jeopardy.

    So no, I don’t think I am being unreasonable.
    He should at least pay the costs of all the agencies in Europe and elswhere checking on all the people he came near.

    Even if he hasn’t passed it on, consider the stress and strain and fear of all those people being checked just in case.
    Hmm, sounds like personal injury, even if only mental.

  25. #25 Barry S
    June 4, 2007

    “He is told to stay put in Italy by the authorities and told why.
    His travel by air into the US is blocked so he sneaks in via Canada.
    He also knew he had TB before he left.”

    So you reduce the entire story to these three lines and claim the torch of reason? In fact, the story is more complex and details are still emerging. Those who want to be reasonable need to exercise reason, and reason requires more than cursory judgments on incomplete information.

    “There is nothing more foolish, nothing more given to outrage than a useless mob.” — Herodotus

  26. #26 Chris' Wills
    June 5, 2007

    So you reduce the entire story to these three lines and claim the torch of reason? In fact, the story is more complex and details are still emerging. Those who want to be reasonable need to exercise reason, and reason requires more than cursory judgments on incomplete information…..Posted by: Barry S

    Are the three lines false?

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