Mail from US brings anthrax to Kenyan family : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

NAIROBI: Four members of a Kenyan family were the targets of the first confirmed anthrax attack outside the United States after they were exposed to the deadly bacteria through a letter posted in the US, Health Minister Sam Ongeri said Thursday.

The letter was posted in Atlanta on September 8 -- three days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- and received in Kenya about a month later, Ongeri told a news conference.

Anthrax, a disease most commonly encountered in livestock, is most fatal to humans when its spores are inhaled. Person-to-person infection is very unlikely. The letter also bears a marking from Miami. No details of the family affected have been released, beyond the fact that they are under medical observation.

Kenya was the victim of a devastating terrorist attack in 1998, when 213 people, including 12 Americans, were killed during the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi. Osama bin Laden is widely suspcted of having organised the bombings. Ongeri said that two other letters, including one received this week at a big United Nations complex here, were still being examined. "In all the cases, mails containing powder-like material was found and so far one has tested positive for anthrax by stain and smear," Ongeri said.

The results of the analysis of a letter suspected of containing anthrax bacteria received at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had not been released by Thursday evening. The letter sent to an unnamed employee at UNEP bore Pakistani postage stamps, the agency's spokesman Tore Brevik said. Brevik said the letter raised suspicions because of the odd way in which stamps were applied and the address written on it in "clumsy handwriting." The word "immaculate" was written by hand where stamps are usually placed. Stamps themselves were stuck on the back of the brownish-grey envelope. About 10 people in the UN complex, including Brevik, have been administered with doses of antibiotics, while workers handling mail are taking extra precautionary steps to prevent contamination, UNEP Director Klaus Toepfer told a news conference.

Ongeri said the Kenya government had set up a "national multi-sectoral taskforce" to tackle the anthrax alert. "The fear of possible deliberate use of poisonous chemicals or harmful pathogens has recently increased since last month's terrorist attack in the US," Ongeris said in a written statement. "Infectious agents (pathogens, toxic chemicals or gases) such as anthrax, botulism, smallpox, plague and viral haemorrhagic fevers are potential for use in biological warfare. "This is an issue of national importance and security concern, which needs urgent address," he said. Ongeri was keen to stress, however, that anthrax is endemic to Kenya and should "pose no undue stress and worry".

A third letter suspected of having being contaminated with anthrax was posted from Nairobi to a businessman in the central town of Nyeri, Ongeri added. "Comprehensive epidemiological investigations will be carried out on every suspected case that may occur" and appropriate rapid response instituted, said Ongeri. The government had stockpiled emergency anti-anthrax drugs, he added. "Additional resources will be mobilized as the situation evolves in collaboration with national and international stakeholders," said Ongeri.

Although anthrax alerts have escalated all over the world over the last two days, no other cases have been confirmed outside the US, where 31 US Senate employees have tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.

( AFP )

-- Rich Marsh (, October 18, 2001

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