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Officials: Florida anthrax case 'isolated'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Florida man diagnosed with anthrax is an "isolated case," the top United States health official said Thursday, and his illness is not linked to any threats of bioterrorism.

JFK Medical Center nursing supervisor Kelly Lyons told CNN Friday morning that the 63-year-old man from Lantana, Florida, remains in critical condition.

"People need to understand that our public health system is on heightened alert, so we may have more public reports of what appears to be isolated cases," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "We will be responding very aggressively. But I want to point out, once again, that this is an isolated case and it's not contagious."

In New York, which has been on edge after terrorist attacks September 11 leveled the World Trade Center, Mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to allay fears that New Yorkers might be at risk.

"There is no evidence, at this point, of any anthrax in New York City or in this area," he told reporters after touring Ground Zero with Mexico's President Vicente Fox.

"At this point, New Yorkers should not be concerned about this."

Just how rare is an isolated case of anthrax? CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta   talked with Aaron Brown.

The FBI is working with health officials in Florida and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to locate the source of the man's illness, but one spokesman said, "There is absolutely no indication this is tied in any way to terrorism."

Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan echoed that conclusion.

The man fell ill after a recent trip to North Carolina and checked himself into a hospital Tuesday, according to Brogan.

"He's critically ill but hopefully he'll respond to treatment," Dr. Larry Bush, one of the doctors treating the man at JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida, said Thursday.

Bush said the man came to the hospital with the symptoms associated with meningitis, but a spinal tap showed he was suffering from anthrax.

"There is not reason to believe at this juncture that this is anything other than a manifestation of a rare and obviously very serious illness that has found its way into the life of one individual," he said.

Anthrax -- considered to be a potential agent for use in biological warfare -- is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis and most commonly occurs in cattle, sheep, goats and other herbivores. Humans can become infected when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals.

The man appears to be suffering from inhalation anthrax, which causes severe respiratory problems and is very often fatal, according to the CDC. Anthrax can also be contracted through a cut in the skin or by eating meat from infected animals.

Thompson said the FBI and the CDC are checking out restaurants and other places the man may have visited in North Carolina in the hope of finding out what caused his illness.

"We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week," said Thompson. "But as far as wool or other things, it's entirely possible. We haven't got all of the investigations done and we're doing a tremendous extensive job of investigating everything."

A Florida state epidemiologist said he did not believe the man contracted the disease during his trip because the incubation period for anthrax is between six and 45 days which would not have included the man's trip.

The last case of anthrax reported in Florida was in 1974. The most recent case in the nation was "within the last year" in Texas, Thompson said.


• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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