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Connecticut man contracts anthrax from drums

/ Source: The Associated Press

A musician and a family member both contracted a non-contagious form of anthrax, apparently from imported animal skins used to make drums, officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Mark Boughton described one of the individuals as a renowned African drummer and drummaker who stored untanned animal hides obtained from areas of the world where anthrax is common.

A spokesman for the state Department of Public Health, Bill Gerrish, said a second member of the same family also had the disease. Both apparently had the cutaneous form of anthrax, which is not contagious and can usually be treated with antibiotics.

The public’s health is not threatened, Boughton said at a news conference.

Cutaneous anthrax, the most common form of the bacterial infection, can cause reddening and swelling of the skin. There usually are only one to two cases per year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

FBI agents were notified, but state public health officials were handling the investigation, said Marybeth Miklos, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s New Haven field office. “We are aware of it, but as of right now it is not anything terrorism-related,” Miklos said.

The state Department of Public Health took about a dozen hides that had been stored in a shed on the man’s property. The drums were not finished, so officials said anthrax would not have spread beyond where the man had worked.

State officials said the hides were part of a recent shipment believed to be from Africa. The FBI and U.S. Department of Agriculture were working to determine whether hides from the same shipment had been sent elsewhere in the country.

The owner of the home, Donald Lombardo, identified the tenant as Ase-AmenRa Kariamu and said he has not seen Kariamu for several weeks. Kariamu is the director of the West Afrikan Drumming program at the Danbury Music Centre. His private phone number is unpublished. Messages seeking comment were left for him at the music center.

Dr. Gary Schleiter, chief of infectious diseases at Danbury Hospital, said the man went to his doctor a few weeks ago with what looked like a scab on his arm. When it didn’t get better, he went to the hospital, where tests confirmed late Monday he had anthrax.

The other family member, who also was not identified, went to a pediatrician because of a similar spot. Both were treated and released and are fine now. There was an 80 percent chance they would have gotten better without treatment, Schleiter said.

In a similar case in February 2006, a New York City man contracted anthrax while handling drums he had covered with goat skin he brought from Ivory Coast. Health officials believe he inhaled anthrax spores while making the instruments.