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Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2001

Third anthrax case found in Florida

October 11, 2001

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— A third person who worked at a Florida company has tested positive for anthrax and the case has become the subject of a federal criminal investigation, authorities said Wednesday.

The 35-year-old woman, whose name wasn't disclosed, was hospitalized after a swab of her nasal passages found traces of anthrax. She is being treated with antibiotics.

FBI agent Hector Pesquera said the anthrax contamination is limited to the Boca Raton headquarters of supermarket tabloid publisher American Media. Anthrax killed a tabloid employee last week and found its way into the nose of mailroom co-worker.

U.S. Atty. Guy Lewis said the investigation would focus on how the anthrax got into the building and why.

Public health officials stressed that there is no public health threat from the anthrax, but the case has heightened fears of a biological attack.

Pesquera said authorities had no evidence the anthrax was created by a terrorist group and cautioned that "this is not a time for premature conclusions and inaccurate reporting."

Sun tabloid photo editor Robert Stevens, 63, died Friday of inhaled anthrax, a rare and particularly lethal form of the disease. Co-worker Ernesto Blanco, 73, has been in a Miami hospital since Monday after anthrax spores were found in his nose. He was in good condition.

Health investigators shut down the American Media building after finding traces of anthrax on the computer keyboard used by Stevens.

"This is so devastating to me and my company," American Media chief executive David Pecker said on CNN's "Larry King Live." There has been speculation that the company's official-sounding name gave it a high profile, and Pecker said he thought his company was being targeted.

Florida health officials have said the bacteria in Stevens' blood responded to antibiotics, suggesting it was a naturally occurring strain rather than a laboratory-altered one.

A law enforcement official said that preliminary work on the anthrax that killed Stevens has found a possible match to a laboratory strain first isolated in Iowa. However, further tests are being done.

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