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Kenya Issues Anthrax Alert - 2001-10-18


The Kenyan government has issued a national alert after a letter was found containing anthrax. Government officials say they are testing two other suspicious letters.

Kenya's health ministry says a letter sent to a Kenyan businessman from the United States has tested positive for anthrax.

Two other suspected cases of anthrax have been reported to the Kenyan health ministry. In all cases, mail was found to contain a powder-like material.

The government says a letter sent to a Kenyan in Nairobi tested positive for anthrax. The four family members who came into contact with the powder are being treated.

Kenyan Health Minister Sam Ongeri says the letter was sent three days before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. "This was a letter that was posted from Atlanta, came through Miami, Florida, was posted on 8 September, arrived in this country on 9 October," he said. "And the person who received it was on 11 October. When he opened this letter, he found some powder, some strange pieces of cloth. This is the one where they did stain and was positive for the spores of anthrax."

Kenyan authorities say the other two suspected cases are still under investigation. One suspicious item was a tattered and oily parcel sent to the United Nations Environment Program headquarters in Nairobi. It was covered with stamps from Pakistan.

The other item, a letter containing a questionnaire and pink powder, was sent to a businessman in Nyeri, about 120 kilometers north of Nairobi.

Kenya's health ministry has issued a national alert warning that anthrax infection may be used as a deliberate biological weapon.

Fears of biological warfare have grown since at least 30 staff working at the United States Senate in Washington tested positive for anthrax exposure earlier this week. Other tests in the United States show anthrax was sent inside two letters to media offices in New York and Florida.

Mr. Ongeri is asking Kenyans not to panic. "The government has already put in place buffer stock of emergency drugs including protective gloves," he said. "Additional resources will be mobilized as the situation evolves.The ministry has set up a hot-line number 720533 for help where all suspected cases of anthrax should be reported. We would like to ask all Kenyans not to panic but to remain calm as the government has the capacity and the capability to deal with the situation."

The Kenyan government has formed a task force to deal with the anthrax threat and raise public awareness. It is warning Kenyans to be wary of letters with excessive postage, oily stains, and hand-written or poorly written addresses.

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