Minnesota Department of Health confirms rare and dangerous case of anthrax

Categories: Health
Recovery from these evil looking bacterium can take months.
Officials from the FBI and the Minnesota Department of Health have been working together to figure out how a patient in a local hospital came down with a case of extremely rare inhalation anthrax.

Due to patient confidentiality reasons, little is being released about the person. However, the researchers are now making the results of their investigation public.

"This is a very, very rare occurrence," says state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield.

According to Lynfield, the patient had been doing quite a bit of traveling and passed through North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana before arriving in Minnesota. Just as the person was arriving in Minnesota, he began to feel ill and was hospitalized with a fever.

In cases like this one, the patient commonly begins to feel like they've come down with the flu -- coughing and feverish -- but then the symptoms seem to pass. A couple of days later, they return worse than ever. Internally, the bacteria wreaks havoc in the lung tissue, resulting in difficulty breathing and even shock. If the person is not treated before this second stage, cases are 90 percent fatal.

After the Minnesota patient was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, his doctors ran a series of tests that turned up something unusual. They sent a sample to Lynfield's lab and the results came back as anthrax. That's when the FBI got involved.

Luckily, Lynfield says, it was quickly determined the afflicted person's strain was naturally-occurring.

"There is no evidence of criminal or terrorist activity," she says. "The person had traveled to places where anthrax spores are know to be in the soil."

Lynfield says the patient told investigators he was out and about in nature, and had contact with animal remains as well as soil. Cattle and deer sometimes become infected with anthrax and can pass it to one another, or to the ground. Humans can get it the same way, by touching an infected animal's skin, bones, hair or wool, and in fact, Lynfield says there are cases of humans getting anthrax from goat-skin drums. She says people shouldn't stress, however.

"It is not communicable person-to-person. That's pretty important," she says. "We're not really worried that this is going to set off a whole outbreak in people."

The infected patient was treated in the hospital and is now starting the long recovery process.

You can read more about scary, scary -- but rare! -- inhalation anthrax here.

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Dr. Bruce Ivins, on October 4, 2001, after hearing the report of Dr. Stevens illness in the news, wrote an email suggesting explanation of inhalational anthrax as due to “tromping around some dusty field area.”Rather than deduce based on this evidence that Dr. Ivins was surfing the internet for news — and obtaining that evidence from the hard drive and history of his computer — the government relied on this email as evidence of consciousness of guilt because the explanation (coming from an expert) was so unrealistic. (It was deemed implausible even though drinking from a stream was being urged by the Health Secretary as the explanation). At the same time, the government relied upon Dr. Ivins’ presence in the lab as evidence of his drying anthrax.Moreover, the DOJ intentionally withheld the lab notes showing the reason for him being in the lab.GAO should address in its upcoming report the withholding of the lab notes and direct that DOJ release them as part of its production under FOIA. There are extensive lab notes from the August – October 2001 that the DOJ is still withholding (in addition to those released by the USAMRIID on May 11, 2011).As a further example, we saw the United States Attorney rely on the lyophilizer as the means Dr. Ivins dried the anthrax even though now everyone agrees that explanation was not plausible. We are well past the point where mere assertions on such an issue should be made without disclosure of the relevant information. Here, a patient’s statutory privacy interest would not prevent disclosure of specifics of a general nature explaining the contact with dead animals.

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