BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) - A co-worker of the man who died last week from anthrax also has tested positive for the disease and the building where both worked was closed after the bacterium was detected there.
The latest case, a man whose name was not immediately made public, was in stable condition Monday at an unidentified hospital, according to both the Florida and North Carolina health departments.
A nasal swab from the patient tested positive for the anthrax bacterium, said Tim O'Conner, regional spokesman for Florida's health department. It was not yet clear if anthrax had only infiltrated his nose, spread to his lungs or if he had a full-blown case of the disease.
The man's co-worker, Bob Stevens, died on Friday, the first person in 25 years in the United States to have died from a rare inhaled form of anthrax.
News that Stevens had contracted the disease set off fears of bio-terrorism, especially when it was revealed that Middle Eastern men were believed to have recently visited an airfield about 40 miles from Stevens' home in Lantana and asked questions about crop-dusters.
O'Conner said there is no evidence that either man was a victim of terrorism. "That would take a turn in the investigation," he said. "It's a different aspect, we were thinking more of environmental sources."
Stevens, 63, was a photo editor at the supermarket tabloid The Sun. Environmental tests performed at the Sun's offices in Boca Raton detected the anthrax bacteria, said O'Conner.
The Sun's offices have been shuttered and law enforcement, local and state health and CDC officials were to take additional samples from the building on Monday, O'Conner said.
About 300 people who work in the building are being contacted by the Sun and instructed not come to work Monday and undergo antibiotic treatment to prevent the disease.
The FBI was helping in the search for the source of the bacterium, said Miami FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela. But "the current risk of anthrax is extremely low," O'Conner said.
It was unclear when the final tests would tell whether or not the second man has full-blown anthrax. The bacterium normally has an incubation period of up to seven days, but could take up to 60 days to develop, O'Conner said.
"We're waiting for additional testing to see if it will become a confirmed case of anthrax or not," said Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "I realize for the public this is going to be a very slight distinction."
Michael Kahane, vice president and general counsel of American Media Inc., which publishes the Sun and two other tabloids, the Globe and the National Enquirer, confirmed the company closed its Boca Raton building at the request of state health officials.
"We are cooperating with the department of health and all other governmental agencies investigating this matter," he said Monday. "Obviously our first concern is the health and well-being of our employees and their families."
Only 18 inhalation cases in the United States were documented in the 20th century, the most recent in 1976 in California. State records show the last anthrax case in Florida was in 1974.
Officials believe Stevens contracted anthrax naturally in Florida. The disease can be contracted from farm animals or soil, though the bacterium is not normally found among wildlife or livestock in the state. Stevens was described as an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed fishing and gardening.
County medical examiners are looking over any unexplained deaths, but have not found any cases connected to anthrax. Veterinarians have been told to be on alert for animals who might have the disease, but none have turned up.
Health officials are checking intensive care units of area hospitals to check records going back 30 days for suspicious cases. They should be finished Monday, said O'Conner.
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