News release: Health officials investigate case of inhalational anthrax from suspected natural environmental exposure

News Release
August 9, 2011
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Health officials investigate case of inhalational anthrax from suspected natural environmental exposure

Officials say case does not represent increased risk to general public

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate an apparent case of inhalational anthrax in an individual who officials believe acquired the infection from the natural environment. The individual was hospitalized in Minnesota after traveling through western states, including North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Laboratory analysis in Minnesota confirmed the diagnosis of anthrax.

"All evidence points to this case of anthrax being caused by exposure to naturally occurring anthrax in the environment," said Minnesota State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield. The individual had exposure to soil and animal remains. Cases of anthrax in hooved animals occur yearly in parts of the country including the Midwest and West as far south as Texas, and up to the Canadian border.

Because anthrax can be used as a bioterrorism agent, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated this matter jointly with MDH, but no evidence suggesting it was a criminal or terrorist act was obtained. As such, the FBI is no longer actively investigating the incident.

Health officials stressed that the case does not represent an increased risk of anthrax to the public. "Anthrax is not spread from person to person, and it is extremely rare for humans to become sickened with anthrax, especially through inhalation," Lynfield said. In rare cases, individuals can become sickened by anthrax if they handle infected animal carcasses or ingest contaminated soil or meat from infected animals. People can also become infected by handling contaminated wool or hides or other products from infected animals. In years past, anthrax was known as "woolsorter's disease".

Because these cases are so rare, health officials are not discouraging people from traveling to areas where anthrax can be found naturally in the environment.

The individual is being treated at a Minnesota hospital.

More information on anthrax, symptoms and treatment, can be found on the MDH website at


For more information, contact:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications

Ruth Lynfield
State Epidemiologist