(CNSNews.com) - A 63-year-old man hospitalized with anthrax in Florida is an 'isolated case,' Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday.
The Lantana, Fla., man, whose name has not been released, checked into the hospital on Tuesday with what was initially believed to be meningitis. After testing and x-rays, doctors concluded he had pulmonary anthrax, an extremely lethal disease, but treatable with antibiotics.
"Based on what we know at this point, it appears that it's an isolated case. I want to make sure that everybody understands that anthrax is not contagious and is not communicable, which means it is not spread from person to person," Thompson said. "If it is caught earlier enough, it can be prevented and treated with antibiotics."
The rare disease, which is not contagious, can be caught naturally.
Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan said the man recently traveled to North Carolina and fell sick shortly after his return. The incubation period for the disease can be 60 days.
Anthrax is a spore-forming bacterium often carried by livestock that is especially virulent if inhaled. It causes pneumonia and the spores germinate and spread through the lungs, releasing toxin. A vaccine exists that would prevent the disease.
"The Centers for Disease Control has a ready supply (of antibiotics), and if our investigation shows anyone else needs treatment, they will be notified and treated," Thompson said.
It can be caught through handling infected animals, eating contaminated meat or breathing in anthrax spores.
"Our public health reporting system worked in a very timely fashion ... Florida public health officials promptly notified their state health department who then notified the Centers for Disease Control and the FBI," Thompson said.
He said officials are investigating the man's schedule for the last few weeks to determine the source of the infection.
"Sporadic cases of anthrax do occur in the United States," Thompson said. "The most recent one was within the past year in the state of Texas and there was a case in Florida in 1974. The last reported case that we know of was within the last year, was earlier in Texas."
He said health officials have been on heightened alert when it comes to disease monitoring, which explains why the disease was reported so quickly.
"This is the disease monitoring system in action, and it is working," Thompson said. "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. We will be responding very aggressively."