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Fla. Man Diagnosed With Anthrax After Spending 2 Weeks in N.C.

Health officials said they are in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their counterparts in Florida, where the anthrax patient is hospitalized. At a press conference, they emphasized that the chances are "exceedingly small" that the anthrax case is part of a terrorist attack.

State officials said the man, who is from south Florida, visited Charlotte, Chimney Rock and Duke University during the last half of September. They would not say if he will live.

The officials said the man, tentatively identified by The Associated Press as Robert Stevens of Palm Beach County, arrived in Charlotte by car Sept. 17. He left Duke on Sept. 30 to return home because he was feeling ill.

State officials said the man had come to North Carolina for "outdoor purposes" but would not elaborate. They added that they do not know why the man visited Duke.

State health officials said anthrax can be spread three ways: by eating contaminated meat, contact with the skin or hair of infected animals or through the air. Anthrax can not be passed from person to person.

Anthrax symptoms, which can include skin sores, vomiting and flu-like problems, vary based on how the disease was contracted. Officials said cases of anthrax are rare, but there are one or two cases nationwide each year.

Dr. Kelly McKee, N.C. Communicable Disease Section chief, said anthrax's incubation period can range from a day to weeks. "We can't say with any certainty where it was contracted."

Debbie Crane, N.C. Department of Health spokeswoman, said the agency has contacted hospitals, including Duke and UNC, and county health agencies to check for other cases of anthrax. "Nothing unusual has been reported so far," Crane said. "A single case does not constitute an outbreak." Crane said the surveillance process will continue for about two more weeks.

Dr. Steve Cline, N.C. Epidemiology Section chief, said teams from the CDC are looking for the source of infection in North Carolina and in Florida.

"We think that (the infection) did not occur in North Carolina because of the incubation period," Cline said. "We may never find out where he contracted it."

State officials were quick to say they do not think this case is related to a terrorist attack but added that anthrax is a dangerous biological weapon. "Producing a weapon with the potential to infect a large number of people is technically challenging and difficult," McKee said. "The risk is exceedingly small."

But he said officials are still considering the possibility of deliberate infection. "It's fair to say that we're concerned that it might have been intentionally delivered," McKee said. "The jury's still out."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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