TB Scare in North Central Florida
The 31-year-old flew home to Atlanta from Europe in May, spending hours in a confined cabin with 270 other Americans - three of whom live in Alachua County - but according to health officials even if Speaker sat in a center seat in coach, it is unlikely he infected anyone.
The Florida Department of Health's Dr. Michael Lauzardo works with TB-infected patients everyday, but he said he really does not worry about catching the deadly disease.
"You just treat it with respect," he said. "You know it's an infectious disease, but you take appropriate precautions as a health care worker."
In the United States, the disease poses little threat and is highly curable, but when fellow passengers learned Speaker boarded an Air France jet in May, they began to worry despite what health officials had to say.
"If you're spread out more, you're in the general community, then contact is limited and it's more difficult to acquire," Director of the Alachua County Health Department Tom Belcuore explained.
When Speaker returned to the U.S., he was quaratined - the first American to be quarantined since 1963. Doctors said Speaker's first test indicated Extensively-Drug Related Tuberculosis, but in June he was re-diagnosed with a less-severe form of the disease.
"Not to downplay it, it's still Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis," Belcuore said. "It has to be carefully monitored over time to make sure that you've cleared the organism."
None of the passengers are known to have diagnosed with TB since returning home. Speaker underwent surgery on July 17, 2007 as part of his treatment. Officials said he was told to stay in Europe after being diagnosed for treatment.
"What this case showed was that we do live in a global society," Belcuore said. "Strains of an organism that are common in some parts of the world can infect an individual and then come into this country."
Despite two million deaths a year, Lauzardo said TB, especially deadly cases of TB, are very rare in the U.S.
"We have the resources, but that's not the case around the world," he warned. "What we have started saying more and more is that until TB is controlled everywhere, it's not controlled anywhere."
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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