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Third person shows exposure to anthrax

BOCA RATON, Florida (CNN) -- A third employee in a tabloid publishing building in Boca Raton, Florida, has tested positive for exposure to the anthrax bacteria, federal and state officials announced Wednesday.

The unidentified 35-year-old woman is being treated and is not expected to develop the potentially deadly disease, Florida Health Secretary John Agwunobi said. One man has died of the disease, and a second tested positive for exposure to it.

The FBI said the investigation is now a criminal probe, but authorities said there is no evidence linking the outbreak to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"We have not made any premature conclusions," said Acting U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis. "My job is to review the evidence, is to investigate, to review every piece of evidence and, quite frankly, it would be inappropriate for me to draw any premature conclusions about the case at this point."

FBI Special Agent in Charge Hector Pesquera has confirmed that at least one more worker at Florida building was exposed to anthrax (October 10)

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Florida Department of Health anthrax hot line: 1-800-342-3557  
 Facts about anthrax
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The spore produces a toxin that can be fatal.

How it spreads:
The spores can spread by inhalation or ingestion.

  • Symptoms usually appear within seven days.

  • Inhalation anthrax infection can start out like a common cold before acute symptoms such as severe breathing problems and shock.

  • Infection by consuming contaminated food is characterized by inflammation of the intestinal tract, leading to vomiting of blood and severe diarrhea.

  • Death can occur within 24 hours of the onset of acute symptoms.

  • Treatment:
    Antibiotics, including penicillin. A delay in the use of antibiotics -- even in terms of hours -- may lessen chances for survival.


    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    Robert Stevens, a supermarket tabloid photo editor, died of inhalation anthrax on Friday.

    A mailroom employee at the American Media building in Boca Raton tested positive for exposure to the bacteria. Earlier this week, hospital officials said Ernesto Blanco, 73, had shown no clinical symptoms of the bacterium. Investigators have said the men were exposed to the same strain of anthrax.

    Blanco was interviewed by FBI agents from his hospital bed at Cedars Medical Center of Miami as authorities continue to try to piece together how the anthrax got into the AMI building, which houses the offices of such tabloids as The Sun and The National Enquirer.

    FBI special agent Judy Orihuela said FBI agents want to learn more from Blanco, who has worked at AMI for 12 years.

    "We're talking to him about his contact with Robert Stevens, his mail distribution procedures, his daily routine," Orihuela said.

    Veronica Carner, Blanco's step-granddaughter, confirmed that FBI agents interviewed her grandfather and that he and Stevens knew each other.

    "He knew him very well," she said.

    Carner added that Blanco was moved out of the intensive care unit Wednesday.

    Earlier Wednesday, a Florida health official said preliminary results from environmental tests at the Boca Raton building indicate no traces of the anthrax bacteria except those found on the computer keyboard of the man who died of the disease.

    Florida Department of Health spokesman Frank Penela stressed that the testing -- conducted, according to sources, at Northern Arizona University at Flagstaff -- is not complete.

    Health officials said no traces of anthrax were found at Stevens' home in Lantana, Florida. Tests at other places Stevens visited, such as grocery stores, restaurants and parks, have also turned up negative.

    Officials said Stevens' family will no longer have to take antibiotics.

    Health officials have said that the anthrax strain cannot naturally develop at a workplace station such as a computer keyboard.

    Employees of AMI lined up at public health offices for more testing for the deadly bacteria. Hundreds of employees were already awaiting test results. Investigators, meanwhile, donned protective suits as they scoured the newspaper offices for more traces.

    The AMI offices remained shut down.

    AMI Chief Executive David Pecker told CNN he thought his company was targeted because of its name.

    "I think this is an attack against America. The World Trade Center was attacked, the Pentagon was attacked, and American Media was attacked, and I think this was the first bio-terrorism attack in United States," Pecker said.

    Pecker said he had gotten calls from people who said they were afraid to touch his newspapers because they were afraid they could catch anthrax. He said the CDC said there was no risk and that the tabloids are not even printed in Florida.

    Investigators have been searching for the source of the anthrax since Stevens' death last week, amid rising fears of a biological terrorist attack.

    Law enforcement sources told CNN the anthrax found in Florida seems to have been identified as the Ames strain of anthrax. The Ames strain was discovered in the early 1950s by Ames, Iowa, researchers, who found it in the tissue of a dead animal. In the 50 years since then, the strain has been distributed to researchers all over the world, and used to make anthrax vaccines.

    Several reports of possible anthrax discoveries in Florida and Virginia have proven to be false alarms in recent days.

    -- CNN correspondents Susan Candiotti and Mark Potter contributed to this report.


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