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Florida man suffering from anthrax dies

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A 63-year-old man hospitalized after contracting anthrax has died, hospital officials said Friday.

Robert Stevens had been hospitalized since Tuesday when he checked himself into JFK Medical Center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is heading the investigation into how Stevens caught anthrax. Palm Beach County, Florida, health officials noted the case is not a criminal investigation, and they believe he contracted the disease naturally. The FBI is available to assist as needed, officials said.

What is it?
An acute infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium. The spore produces a potentially fatal toxin.  
How does it spread?
By inhalation or ingestion  
Appear within seven days. Inhalation -- cold-like symptoms to severe breathing problems and shock. Ingestion -- intestinal inflammation, vomiting blood, severe diarrhea. Death can occur within 24 hours of onset.  
Antibiotics, including penicillin.  
Source: CDC  
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Isolated case extremely rare  

Stevens fell ill after a recent trip to North Carolina. A Florida state epidemiologist said he did not believe Stevens contracted the disease during his trip, because the incubation period for anthrax is between six and 45 days, a period which would not have included his trip.

The nation's top health official stressed there is no need for alarm.

"People need to understand that our public health system is on heightened alert, so we may have more public reports of what appears to be isolated cases," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. "We will be responding very aggressively. But I want to point out, once again, that this is an isolated case and it's not contagious."

Giuliani: No threat

In New York, which has been on edge after terrorist attacks September 11 leveled the World Trade Center, Mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to allay fears that New Yorkers might be at risk.

"There is no evidence, at this point, of any anthrax in New York City or in this area," he told reporters after touring ground zero with Mexico's President Vicente Fox.

"At this point, New Yorkers should not be concerned about this."

A physician who treated Stevens said the patient came to the hospital with symptoms associated with meningitis, but a spinal tap showed he was suffering from anthrax.

"There is no reason to believe at this juncture that this is anything other than a manifestation of a rare and obviously very serious illness that has found its way into the life of one individual," said Dr. Larry Bush, one of the team that treated Stevens.

Considered a potential agent for use in biological warfare, anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It most commonly occurs in cattle, sheep, goats, and other herbivores. Humans can become infected when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals.

Doctors believe Stevens suffered from inhalation anthrax, which causes severe respiratory problems and is very often fatal. Anthrax can also be contracted through a cut in the skin or by eating meat from infected animals.

The last case of anthrax reported in Florida was in 1974. The most recent case in the nation was "within the last year" in Texas, Thompson said.



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