Appearing at the daily White House briefing, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said “this is an isolated case and it’s not contagious.”
Anthrax has been developed by some countries as a form of bioterrorism, but Thompson said “there is no evidence of terrorism.” The country is on heightened alert for all forms of terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The disease can be contracted naturally by handling infected animals, eating contaminated meat or inhaling anthrax spores. Although anthrax can be treated with antibiotics, when inhaled it is usually fatal. It is seen most frequently in developing countries where up to 100,000 people get anthrax every year.
While very rare in this country, 18 cases of inhaled anthrax have been reported in the United States during the last century, most-likely a result of handling contaminated animals. Thompson said the last case of anthrax in the U.S. was earlier this year in Texas. But that case was not pulmonary anthrax, in which the disease settles in the lungs.
The unidentified man had recently traveled to North Carolina and became ill shortly after he returned. He is said to be an avid outdoorsman, and he may have drank from a creek while hiking. The FBI and other agencies are investigating areas where the patient could have contracted the disease. The incubation period for the disease can be up to 60 days.
It was initially believed the British-born man had meningitis, but X-rays and other tests showed otherwise.