It reads like the Stephen King novel, “The Stand” and is scripted like a Hollywood disaster movie: a person infected with an incurable air-borne transmittable disease, travels in an airplane across many countries. He knows he is ill, but decides his honeymoon plans are more important. In denial, family members say and do nothing. Government officials also fail to fulfill their responsibilities. Hundreds are possibly infected on the airplane and unsuspecting, they have brought the virus home. One sick person has now spread his disease internationally across oceans and borders. The strain of tuberculosis that the 31-year-old personal injury lawyer Andrew Speaker has is resistant to antibiotics and can be highly contagious during certain stages. Speaker is now in Colorado at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center. Medical experts are saying Speaker probably was not in an infectious stage when he traveled, but he has been quarantined indefinitely none the less.
In the beginning of the last century, TB was one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Now it is rare except in certain sections of the world.
The question that must be asked is: “What would have happened if Speaker had been infected with the Avian Influenza?”
The answer: “We’d be in deep shit.”
The highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu strain that has been popping up mostly in Asia infected 309 people in 2003, killing 187. That’s over a 60% fatality rate. (That means in your family of four, at least two members would die.) Luckily, this disease so far has not mutated into a virus that can be easily spread between people-but, if and when it does, it could trigger a global pandemic in which tens of millions could perish…no matter if you lived in Africa or Colorado.
And all the “I’m sorry’s” could not stop it.
Hopefully, this TB incident has shown government officials and the public where the weaknesses are in our disease control system. However, as long as there are people like Speaker who choose to ignore the safety of others over self-preservation, be afraid. Very afraid.