As the nation stockpiled supplies to prepare for a possible biological or chemical attack by terrorists, a Florida man died from an actual case of anthrax inhalation.
Bob Stevens, 63, of Lantana, passed away Friday.
U.S. officials said there was no link to terrorism, but also said a deliberate release of the germ by terrorists is one of several possibilities under investigation.
"We have that on the list," Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said Thursday.
Anthrax, which causes pneumonia, has been developed by some countries as a possible biological weapon. It can be contracted naturally, often from livestock or soil, but isn't contagious.
"There's no need for people to fear they are at risk," Koplan said.
However, in an effort to track Stevens' movements, officials dispatched investigators to North Carolina and Florida, the two states where Stevens has spent time in recent weeks.
He traveled to North Carolina on Sept. 27 and left three days later because he wasn't feeling well, said Debbie Crane, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service. He visited Charlotte, Duke University in Durham and Chimney Rock Park, where he participated in outdoor activities, Crane said.
Fears that terrorists may have been planning an airborne chemical or biological attack were raised last month when it was learned that a group of Middle Eastern men — including one of the hijackers in the attack on the World Trade Center — had been asking suspicious questions about a crop duster at an airfield in Belle Glade, which is about 40 miles inland from Lantana.
Stevens was the first person in the United States in a quarter-century to contract an inhaled form of anthrax. The most recent previous U.S. case of anthrax was earlier this year in Texas. But that was the more common skin form, not inhalation anthrax, an especially lethal form in which the disease settles in the lungs.
Stevens, a father of four grown children, was known by neighbors in this suburban town south of West Palm Beach for helping others with home repairs, his morning bike rides and for sharing tomatoes and peppers from his garden.
His identity was released by his employer, the supermarket tabloid The Sun, where he is a photo editor.
with antibiotics. There is also a vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease, but it is available only to the military.
During the 20th century, only 18 cases of inhaled anthrax were reported in the United States.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.