Image: Anthrax apartment
Jonathan Fickies  /  Getty Images
New York City Police officials set up tape outside the apartment building where Vado Diomande lives. Diomande, a drum maker, was hospitalized for a case of inhaled anthrax.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/22/2006 8:14:34 PM ET 2006-02-23T01:14:34

A New York City man has been hospitalized with a case of inhaled anthrax that officials say he may have contracted from the raw animal hides that he imports from Africa.

Authorities said Wednesday the infection appeared to be accidental — not terrorism — and did not pose a serious public health threat.

Vado Diomande, 44, had traveled recently to the west coast of Africa and fell ill in Pennsylvania last week shortly after he returned to this country with some goat hides, authorities said.

It was not clear whether Diomande came into contact with the deadly substance in Africa or in this country. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg said it was related to his job making drums from animal skins.

At least four other people may have been exposed to anthrax spores, including a family member of the infected man who worked with the hides, and three were being treated with antibiotics, city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said.

“Every indication suggests that this is naturally occurring anthrax,” Frieden said.

Authorities were also screening for contaminants at the man’s rented work area in Brooklyn, in his vehicle and in his Manhattan apartment, Bloomberg said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified of the infection on Tuesday afternoon by the Pennsylvania state health department and is investigating the case along with a medical team from New York City to trace the hides and people who might have been exposed to them.

The patient used the hides for drum-making, a process which involves soaking and scraping to remove the animal's hair, Dr. Lisa Rotz, medical epidemiologist from the CDC, said at a press conference on Wednesday.

"Spores can reside within the hides of animals especially where it is endemic in the soil," says Rotz. "That's one of the potential areas of exposure."

Anthrax is an acute, sometimes deadly infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium. While anthrax can grow naturally, it also can be used as a biological weapon. The last case of naturally occurring anthrax inhalation in the U.S. was in 1976, affecting a person who made wool rugs as a hobby, said Rotz.

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The CDC is working with quarantine officials and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine how the hides came into the U.S.

The mayor said Diomande was recovering in a hospital in Sayre, Pa., after collapsing during a performance with a dance company.

Anthrax infections must be treated early with antibiotics for the best chance of recovery. The inhalation form of the disease has a fatality rate of about 75 percent, even with antibiotics.

Frieden said Diomande was breathing on his own and appeared to be “doing better than people with respiratory anthrax usually do.”

Weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the nation was on high alert as anthrax-laced letters popped up in several places, including New York City. NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, two U.S. senators and the offices of the New York Post were among the targets.

The anthrax attacks killed five people across the country and sickened 17. Investigators have not determined who was responsible for the attacks.

MSNBC's Jane Weaver, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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