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October 10, 2001

Anthrax Update for October 10, 2001 #1


 (SafetyAlerts) -  The FBI is investigating the possibility that anthrax bacteria found in 2 Florida men is a result of terrorism, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday. The bacteria killed one of the men Friday. It has since been detected in the nose of a co-worker and on a computer keyboard in the newspaper office where both men worked, health officials said.

"We regard this as an investigation that could become a clear criminal investigation," Ashcroft said during a news conference in Washington.

"We don't have enough information to know whether this could be related to terrorism or not." He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta was providing expertise, but Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan confirmed that the FBI is "in control of the investigation."

[The first patient], 63, a photo editor at the supermarket tabloid The Sun, died Friday of inhalation anthrax, an extremely rare and lethal form of the disease. The last such death in the United States was in 1976.

On Monday, officials said a co-worker of [the deceased patient], whose name was not immediately released, had anthrax bacteria in his nasal passages. Relatively large anthrax spores that lodge in the upper respiratory tract are less dangerous than smaller spores that get into the lungs. The co-worker was in stable condition Monday at an unidentified Miami-Dade County hospital, according to health officials. He had been tested for anthrax because he happened to be in a hospital for an unrelated illness. The man has not been diagnosed with the disease, and Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the CDC in Atlanta, said authorities may never know whether he actually had anthrax because antibiotics may have killed it before it was detected.

David Pecker, chief executive of the tabloid's publisher, American Media Inc., said the man worked in the mailroom.

The FBI sealed off the office building housing The Sun and was combing it for clues. All 300 employees who work in the building were asked to come to a clinic so they could be tested for the bacteria. CDC officials said nasal swabs would be taken, and antibiotics provided.

A sample of anthrax was taken from a computer keyboard at the Sun, said Dr. John Agwunobi, the state's secretary of health.

County medical examiners are looking over any unexplained deaths, but have not found any cases connected to anthrax.

Source: ProMed.

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