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Target: Terrorism - CDC and Health Officials Trying to Find Source of Anthrax in Florida Man

Aired October 5, 2001 - 06:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a case of anthrax turns up in the state of Florida, but officials say it is an isolated case. Talk about bad timing, it is the first anthrax case diagnosed in Florida since 1974. And with heightened concern over biological warfare, health officials are eager to track down the origin.

CNN's John Zarrella is in Atlantis, Florida this morning.

John, how do we really know that it's an isolated case, that there isn't somebody else out there who is also infected?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, that's exactly what CDC investigators and health officials here in Florida are trying to determine. We are in Atlantis, Florida. It is just south of West Palm Beach for our viewers who know this area of the state of Florida. Sixty-three-year-old Bob Stevens is this morning, according to hospital officials, still in critical condition here at JFK Hospital. Stevens is being treated with what is considered the preferred treatment which is penicillin, an antibiotic, this morning and may be showing some response to that antibiotic, although again, he is still in critical condition.

There are some important points that have to be -- that have to be made this morning. According to health officials, according to federal officials and the CDC, it is not contagious this form of anthrax that Bob Stevens has. It is not likely the result of terrorism, but they do not know how they got it. It appears to be an isolated case, but the CDC is not taking any chances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JEFFREY KOPLAN, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: And we have a team of epidemiologists and other public health workers in Florida now working with the state health department to carefully determine where this individual has been for the last few weeks, who he's been with, under what circumstances and to try to see if there's a risk factor or an exposure that might have occurred during that period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Health officials believe that because of the incubation period, which is up to 60 days, that although Stevens did visit North Carolina recently that he more than likely contracted the disease here in Florida. They have talked with his wife. She is not showing any signs or symptoms, which are flu-like symptoms, of anthrax, although she is under observation. And CDC investigators are here in Florida and they are talking with people in the neighborhood, they are going to places that he may have visited. Part of the problem, though, is they can't get information from him because he is so heavily sedated right now and he is, of course, on oxygen so they are not able to talk to him to try and find out where he might have been, where he might have come in contact with the anthrax.

What's interesting is, one of the ways that they found out about this is because state health officials have recently gone through training to identify anthrax. When he came in with the flu-like symptoms, they began running tests here at the hospital. One of the tests that they ran, thinking it was meningitis, was a spinal tap. When they looked at the results of the spinal tap, they found in the fluid what are rod-like structures with spores. This tipped off the epidemiologist here who sent the results of that test right up to the state and also to the CDC, and, quite quickly, it was identified as of sometime Wednesday, early Thursday as in fact inhaled anthrax.

But again, it's critical for everyone to know that doctors, that health officials here are saying there is at this point no reason to suspect terrorism, no reason to suspect that there is anybody else in the community that is at risk at this point -- Carol.

LIN: John, again, what's the prognosis for him right now?

ZARRELLA: Prognosis with inhaled anthrax is never very good for people. Once you have the symptoms, once you notice the symptoms, it is usually a 90 percent chance that you do not survive. But because this appears to be a naturally causing -- caused anthrax, perhaps in the ground, perhaps from an animal, there is a better chance that Stevens may survive. And apparently there's some indication that he is responding to the treatments -- the penicillin treatment so that is, at least at this point, a glimmer of some good news.

LIN: Got you. All right, we're going to be going live throughout the day there to keep up a progress report.

Thanks so much. John Zarrella reporting live there.

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