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THE FBI was today investigating the death of a British-born journalist in the US after he was exposed to anthrax disease at his workplace

The probe into how the deadly spores came to be present in the offices of supermarket tabloid publisher American Media Incorporated in Boca Raton, Florida, was taken over by the FBI last night as fears rose that it was a terrorist attack.

Local public health officials had earlier said the death on Friday of 63-year-old Bob Stevens and the exposure of a 73-year-old man to spores which cause the disease were isolated incidents caused by naturally-occurring anthrax. But last night, the FBI were called in when it emerged that anthrax does not occur naturally in Florida.

US attorney-general John Ashcroft said: "We don't have enough information to know if this could be related to terrorism."

Anthrax spores were found on the computer keyboard belonging to British- born Mr Stevens, who was picture editor of tabloid news magazine The Sun.

Mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco tested positive for exposure to the spores which cause the infection, but does not have the disease and is "stable" in hospital.

It was not known what symptoms he had, but Mr Stevens was admitted to hospital suffering from confusion and vomiting and later died from pulmonary anthrax, an unusual strain of the rare disease.

He is believed to be the first person in the US to die of pulmonary anthrax strain since 1975.

About 300 workers at American Media Incorporated, which publishes the National Enquirer and Globe tabloids, were told to see their doctors immediately.

They were also given a questionnaire asking if they had seen any unusual activity in the offices after September 11 when terrorists struck in New York and Washington.

Medical experts in Virginia reported another suspected case of anthrax in the Prince William Hospital in Manassas. They were awaiting the results of a germ culture taken from the patient.

The FBI was also investigating whether suspected hijacking ringleader Mohamed Atta had tried to buy a crop-dusting plane in Florida.

Anthrax is a potentially deadly bacterial infection which can be incubated in the body for up to 60 days before it develops into the full-blown disease.

Only 18 cases of anthrax contracted by inhalation have been recorded in the US in the last 100 years and the last case of any type of anthrax in Florida was in 1974.

The infection can be spread through spores coming into contact with the skin, being swallowed or by being inhaled, which leads to the rarest and most serious form of the illness.

lDoctors across the world were today urged to be on the alert for "unexplained illnesses and deaths" amid fears over acts of bioterrorism.

The World Medical Association, which represents more than eight million clinicians worldwide, warned that the threat of biological warfare could wreak more damage than a chemical or nuclear attack. The WMA called for a new system to track down and stop the development of biological agents for use in terrorist attacks.

They said an "effective verification system" should be put in place in the light of the terror attacks and warned that all countries are "potentially at risk" of devastating biological attacks.

The release of organisms causing smallpox, plague and anthrax could prove "catastrophic" in resulting illness and deaths, compounded by the panic such outbreaks would generate.


READY FOR BATTLE: Members of the Northern Alliance (right) prepare to fire a mortar near Kchod Zhagar, northern Afghanistan yesterday; DEADLY SPORES: Anthrax victim Briton Bob Stevens; AIR RAIDS: Damage caused by US/British airstrikes on key military installations in Kabul, Afghanistan THREE SHOT: Three people were killed in Quetta, Pakistan, when police opened fire on a crowd protesting against US military action against the Taleban
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 9, 2001
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