By now, you’ve all heard about Andrew Speaker, the man who brought extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis to full-blown US attention.
The case is undeniably bizarre. Man has deadly infection, health officials try in vain to get him to stop flying, he puts hundreds of passengers at risk despite being on a so-called “no-fly” list, a customs official lets him in because he doesn’t look sick… oh, and most bizarrely of all, his father-in-law is a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specializing in, wait for it, TB.
My first response was to think that the US was over-reacting. After all, XDR-TB has been found everywhere in the world. What’s so special about this one case? And it’s not as if the US is teeming with HIV-infected individuals, who are most at risk of catching TB. The reports all said too that his wife hadn’t become infected despite presumably spending lots of time with her husband.
But then the newspapers started detailing the many missteps that led to Speaker’s dangerous jaunts across the Atlantic. Now I, and no doubt every health official in the world, am wondering how we can ever hope to sucecssfully contain something like a flu pandemic, if we can’t get one guy to stay put. I’m not really for the idea of quarantining people. When SARS hit, some governments went a little 1984-ish nutso with nonstop surveillance and what-have-you. But I can’t argue that in the end, that’s what stopped SARS in its tracks, nor that most models show that containing the first few infections will be key in stopping a flu pandemic.
What I think we need is some updated quarantine laws, that make sense and take into account individual liberties. But even before that, I hope governments quickly learn how to stop infected people from putting everyone around them at risk.