The news of a second case of anthrax in Florida comes as the U.S. heightened security following military strikes on sites in Afghanistan in a campaign against suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.
Last Friday, Robert Stevens, a photographer for the tabloid Sun newspaper, became the the first confirmed person in 25 years in the United States to die from a rare inhaled form of anthrax. Florida health officials tested his family and co-workers and, until today, had found no other cases.
Today’s case involves a man who doctors discovered had anthrax bacteria in his nasal passage, but was not ill with the disease.
When detected early, doctors say, anthrax can be treated with antibiotics.
“A gentleman who worked with the other patient had a cotton swab taken of his nose and that tested positive but he does not have the illness,” said Frank Penela, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health.
Environmental tests performed at the Sun’s offices in Boca Raton detected anthrax bacteria, and the building was immediately sealed as law enforcement, local and state health workers and CDC officials took additional samples.
The FBI has also launched an investigation into the disease discoveries.
Around 300 people work in the building. They were told not to come into work and to get tested immediately.
“Every step is being taken to quickly identify the bacteria’s source and determine how the two individuals were infected,” the FBI said in a statement.
Last week, public health and U.S. government officials said Stevens’ anthrax case was an isolated incident and there was no reason to believe it had resulted from a biological attack.
The disease, which is not contagious in humans, is usually contracted from close proximity with infected sheep, cattle, horses, goats and pigs.
News of the disease has set off fears of bio-terrorism, particularly because suspected Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta rented planes four times in August at a nearby flight school, according to Marian Smith, the school’s owner. Stevens’ Lantana home was within a mile of the airport.
The Florida health department is still skeptical that the germ was planted by a terrorist.
“That would take a turn in the investigation,” Tim O’Conner, regional spokesman for Florida’s health department, said. “It’s a different aspect. We were thinking more of environmental sources.”