COMMENTS: My Big Infected Greek Wedding

That scary supergerm grabbed headlines for the second straight day. The tuberculosis patient suffering from the hard-to-treat infection with the science-fiction-style acronym is safely locked away in quarantine at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital. But his back-story--as told to Alison Young of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution--was enough to lead all three network newscasts, making TB the Story of the Day for the second straight day.

It turns out that the 32-year-old patient was determined to fly, despite his diagnosis, because he was getting married in Greece. He learned of the seriousness of his infection while on honeymoon in Rome. And he returned, eluding authorities, by way of Prague and Montreal, because he wanted to be treated back home. ABC's Steve Osunsami quoted what he told AJC's Young when the Centers for Disease Control put him on a no-fly list, flagged his passport and told him to check himself into a Roman hospital: "You are nuts. I was not going to do that." The CDC and Department of Homeland Security coordinated to pick him up at customs but because he had a round-trip ticket "all attention was focused on airports," NBC's Pete Williams reported. Instead, he entered from Canada by car: "The border agent should have spotted him but did not."

NBC's Robert Bazell used another of reporter Young's quotes: "I have cooperated with everything other than the solitary confinement in Italy thing." Instead he will face confinement for a year or so at the National Jewish Hospital, a specialist in TB treatment in Denver. CBS had Nancy Cordes showcase what hospital quarantine in respiratory isolation looks like: his room will have a separate ventilation system, monitoring by video cameras and "a door that locks on the outside, just in case." The XDR-TB strain is very rare, NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman added, with only 49 cases since 1993. Presumably those are statistics for the United States, not worldwide, although Snyderman did not specify.

It turns out that our bridegroom "had no symptoms--no fever, no weakness, coughing or night sweats," according to CBS' Kelly Cobiella. She quoted the CDC that "the risk of infection to other passengers is extremely low" and even his new bride is not infected. XDR-TB is dangerous because it is hard to treat--or eXtensively Drug-Resistant--not because it is easy to spread, so the use of the word "virulent" to describe it by NBC anchor Brian Williams has a tinge of scaremongering. Virulent can mean "lethal" but it more often means "highly infectious." The crisis was a hypothetical one, ABC's Lisa Stark implicitly acknowledged, as she checked off the lag time for diagnosis and the lack of legal powers to stop the patient from jetting off to his wedding: "What if they are facing a patient with smallpox or SARS?"


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