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Minnesota Department of Health confirms rare and dangerous case of anthrax

Recovery from these evil looking bacterium can take months.
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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