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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Three Utah residents were on the same flight with the Atlanta lawyer who has tuberculosis.
Utah health officials said it's unlikely they were infected by Andrew Speaker during the Atlanta-to-Paris flight on May 12. "Mr. Speaker is what we call smear-negative, which means he was not very infectious," said Teresa Garrett, who oversees the TB program at the Utah Department of Health. "His ability to spread the disease to others is probably very limited, which is good news."
Speaker sparked an international scare when health officials tried to find and isolate him because his strain of TB is considered exceptionally dangerous.
Wes and Sarah Garrett of Park City sat behind Speaker on the plane, close enough to hear him talk about getting married in Greece.
They didn't realize their connection to him until they received a call from the federal Centers for Disease Control. "As soon as they said, 'CDC,' I thought, 'Oh no, I must have been on that flight,"' said Wes Garrett, no relation to the health department's Garrett. "I was fearful at the time. I didn't know much about tuberculosis," he said. "I didn't really know what the implications were. It took a little while to set in."
The three Utahns have been tested to rule out they had previously been exposed to TB, according to the health department.
Because it takes up to 10 weeks for TB to show up on a test, the three will be tested again in mid-July.
Health officials have told them to carry on with their lives. They are allowed to travel and don't have to wear face masks.
TB, a disease caused by bacteria, can be spread by sneezing or coughing. It once was a leading cause of death in the United States. "There has been some panic over TB infection," said Stephanie Hurt, infectious disease coordinator at the Summit County Public Health Department, which tested the Garretts. "It is very hard to get."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)