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Tuberculosis Patient Treated in Denver

Treatment May Take Months; Patient Asks Forgiveness From His Fellow Fliers

Patient Apologizes

In an interview with ABC, Speaker said he never thought he was sick enough to infect others and said, "I'm very sorry for any grief or pain that I have caused anyone." He also asked forgiveness from his fellow passengers.

Speaker told ABC that while doctors had advised him against travel, they hadn't forbidden him from traveling.

In news conferences held earlier this week, CDC officials said that while the patient hadn't broken any laws by traveling, doctors rely on a "covenant of trust" in which patients opt not to travel so as not to put others at risk.

Speaker's father-in-law, Robert Cooksey, is a research microbiologist in the CDC's division of tuberculosis elimination. In a statement issued yesterday, Cooksey says he has never had TB and that his son-in-law's XDR TB didn't come from him or CDC labs. Cooksey says he wasn't involved in his son-in-law's decisions about traveling, and that the family is focusing on Speaker's recovery.

Speaker told ABC that when the CDC contacted him in Rome and told him to cancel his commercial flights, he was afraid to get treated outside the U.S. and wanted to get back to the U.S. for treatment with tuberculosis specialists in Denver.

Patient's Treatment

Speaker's treatment in Denver may last for months. That's how long it may take for doctors to find out if his tuberculosis responds to any antibiotic treatments.

If months of antibiotic treatment do not suffice, Speaker may also get surgery to remove parts of his lung affected by tuberculosis.

But it's too soon to know if Speaker will need that surgery, says Marvin Pomerantz, MD, director of the Center for the Surgical Treatment of Lung Infections at the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center.

Pomerantz tells WebMD if Speaker gets the surgery, it would be done at the University of Colorado Hospital.

In describing the surgery, Pomerantz says he "wouldn't call it a last resort. I'd call it part of the overall treatment of the difficult cases of tuberculosis," with more antibiotic treatment after the operation.

The surgery "should be done only in specialized units that are used to dealing with these particular problems," says Pomerantz.

Typical Tuberculosis Treatment

Today, doctors treat most people with TB outside the hospital. Gone are the days of going to the mountains for long periods of bed rest. Speaker is being treated in the hospital due to his rare and treatment-resistant strain of TB.

Doctors seldom use surgery. But when the bacteria are resistant to standard treatment, surgery is sometimes necessary to remove a pocket of bacteria in the lungs or in another part of the body.

Typically, tuberculosis treatment involves taking several special antibiotics for six to nine months. Treatment takes that long because the bacteria grow very slowly and, unfortunately, also die very slowly. Doctors use multiple drugs to reduce the likelihood of resistant bacteria emerging. Often the drugs will be changed or chosen based on laboratory results showing which antibiotics are most effective against the TB bacteria.

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