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CDC chief: Progress in Florida anthrax case

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Investigators are closing in on determining when and how deadly anthrax got into an office building in Florida, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

An employee at the American Media building in Boca Raton, Florida, died last week from exposure to anthrax; a second employee tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.

CDC director Jeffrey Koplan said that when his agency first learned of the anthrax exposure, health officials immediately began formulating key questions: Who got sick, where did the exposure occur, when did it happen and how did it happen?

"We're trying to answer all those questions," Koplan told CNN. "We're collecting that information now and analyzing it."

He said the CDC was first notified by Florida health department officials last Wednesday night that "they had a laboratory specimen with a presumed diagnosis of anthrax." By last Thursday morning, the CDC had a team of specialists headed to Florida and by noon, the CDC had confirmed the anthrax case.

Immediately, public health officials implemented steps to protect the public.

"It's a good example of a system working at all levels," Koplan said. "In this case, the important thing was we were able to take the public health steps to protect the community first."

He said more than 700 employees at the building are being tested for exposure to anthrax -- an important step in helping to determine what areas of the office building were most affected.

"What this isolation of the organism will show us is where were they at a given time and what time was it that it occurred," Koplan said.

He emphasized that even if more people test positive for exposure to anthrax, "it doesn't mean people are sick." He added that the American Media employees have all been given antibiotics and "that should protect them fully against the disease."

Asked about reports that the strain of anthrax matches one from a U.S. laboratory, Koplan said, "I think there's a lot of speculation out there that really isn't pertinent or relevant to this investigation at hand."

He added: "The question of what strain caused this is interesting, but not vital to our immediate investigation of this epidemic." The FBI is handling that aspect.

Koplan also urged Americans not be alarmed, stressing that this is an isolated case.

"This is one episode in one building in a community. It's a serious one. It's had tragic consequences for at least one individual. But people need to keep in mind that this remains, at the moment, one isolated episode," he said.

"For most physicians, a key issue is a high sense of awareness, a high sense of sensitivity for something unusual in the community healthwise. But for most citizens, as President Bush has said, you got to live your life."


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