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Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 17:05 GMT
US anthrax widow files $50m claim
Workers in bio-hazard suits
The outbreaks caused panic across America
The widow of a Florida man who died after inhaling anthrax has filed a $50m compensation claim against the United States Government.

Robert Stevens died in October 2001 from pulmonary anthrax after inhaling spores of the deadly bacteria contained in a contaminated letter.

Robert Stevens
Stevens was the first of five people killed
Lawyers representing his widow Maureen Stevens are blaming lax security at a Maryland army base for his death, even though it has not been proven that the anthrax was stolen from there.

Stevens worked as a photo editor at American Media Inc. - the first target of the anthrax attacks.

He was the first of five people killed in the nationwide anthrax outbreak, which infected 18 other people, shut down parts of Washington DC and terrorised an already anxious American public in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

The weapons-grade anthrax was posted in letters to a number of people and institutions. In addition to those directly infected, another 35,000 people were forced to take precautionary antibiotics.

Security breach

Despite a massive investigation there have been no arrests in connection with the case, although suspicions have centred on US Government military laboratories and a group of current or former government scientists.

Mrs Stevens' lawyer, Richard Schuler, said his client was seeking more information about her husband's death.

In the claim it is alleged that the anthrax that killed Stevens was stolen from Fort Detrick, Maryland - home to the army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases - following a security breach.

Boxes of the antibiotic Cipro
There was a run on the antibiotic Cipro

The Fort Detrick facility contains the government's main supplies of the virulent Ames strain of the bacteria which was found in the contaminated letters.

The bacteria is used in the development of vaccines to protect troops from the threat of biological warfare.

Mr Schuler said he sent the claim to the Defence Department and the army.

If the government rejects the claim, Mr Schuler then has six months to file a lawsuit.

Steven's died on 5 October 2001 at Palm Beach in Florida - the first incidence of pulmonary anthrax in America since the 1970s, and one of only a handful in the country in the past 100 years.

He had been admitted to the hospital suffering from confusion and vomiting and his condition quickly deteriorated.

Anthrax infection is treatable with penicillin in its early phases but without treatment it can cause severe breathing difficulty and is fatal in most cases.


Guide to the disease that is causing panic
See also:

06 Aug 02 | Americas
15 Oct 02 | Americas
05 Oct 01 | Americas
08 Feb 03 | Health
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