- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

A Lantana, Fla., businessman has contracted a rare case of anthrax, a mostly fatal disease that has been in the news lately because it is caused by a germ that terrorists could convert into a weapon.
Government officials who confirmed the diagnosis yesterday quickly declared the 63-year-old victim's illness "an isolated case." They said there is no evidence of terrorist involvement.
Tommy G. Thompson, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, said at a White House press conference:
"I want to make sure that everybody understands that anthrax is not contagious and is not communicable, which means it is not spread from person to person. If it is caught early enough, it can be prevented and treated with antibiotics."
Mr. Thompson said the FBI and agents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were attempting to determine the exact cause of the illness.
"I want everybody to understand that sporadic cases of anthrax do occur in the United States. The most recent one was within the past year in the state of Texas, and there was a case in Florida in 1974," he said. "The last reported case that we know of was within the last year was earlier in Texas. The rapid identification of this case in Florida certainly may be a result of the heightened level of disease monitoring being done by the public health and medical community."
Although anthrax cases do occur naturally, they are rare. Just 18 cases of inhaled anthrax were reported in the United States during the last century. More common are the so-called "cutaneous cases" that are less often fatal and result from skin contact with anthrax spores.
Little information has been released about the latest victim. He checked into a hospital on Tuesday complaining of confusion and vomiting. Physicians initially thought he had contracted meningitis, but X-rays and other tests revealed pulmonary anthrax, the most deadly form of the disease. Doctors in Florida report the victim in this instance is likely to die.
The victim is described as an avid outdoorsman. He had returned recently from a camping trip in North Carolina, and it initially was suspected he contracted the disease from drinking contaminated stream water.
However, Florida officials who spoke to reporters after Mr. Thompson's briefing disputed that. It takes roughly 60 days for symptoms of this kind of anthrax to appear, and the patient had not been away that long. Consequently, investigators anticipate finding the source of contagion in Palm Beach County.
Department of Defense documents refer to anthrax as "the preferred biological warfare agent." In these edgy days following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, initial fear was that terrorists might be implicated in this incident.
Yet anthrax is common in nature. It is found in agricultural regions and occurs in animals, especially cattle, horses, sheep and goats. Humans contract the disease generally from handling animal products, and symptoms appear on the skin in the form of ulcerlike eruptions that swell, break and bleed. But anthrax spores can be inhaled, and the disease can be spread by eating the undercooked meat of infected animals.
The disease produces a variety of symptoms. The type that apparently has afflicted the Lantana man produces initial chills, pain in the back and legs, cough, fever, extreme fatigue, confusion and nausea.

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