Andrew Speaker and Drug-resistant TB

Long before Andrew Speaker brought it to the
front page we’ve known an infectious disease could hop across oceans by way of a
single plane ride.

I hope no one gets the drug-resistant strain of TB that young Andrew Speaker carried across the Atlantic and back last week. But Speaker’s journey has brought attention to a hard reality that we’ve not really faced up to in our globally nomadic world; namely, an infectious disease anywhere in the world is only a few hours away from any other place in the world, even across oceans.

This isn’t news, of course, but it’s the kind of thing we don’t dwell on until a threat is imminent. Speaker has reminded us of the imminent danger represented by global travel through exposure to deadly bacteria and viruses. I hope no one else is infected and Speaker regains his health. But if his journey raises public awareness, it will have some redeeming value for this reason alone.

What is not being said quite so openly, but it should be said in my opinion, is that Speaker doesn’t fit the stereotype of a downtrodden refugee entering the U.S. carrying a disease of poverty such as TB. He’s an affluent, young law student, the counter type of the disease-bearing refugee. The point is that none of us is above risk. These diseases don’t respect social class and they aren’t limited to economic status.

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