One year after he nearly died from inhaling anthrax spores, a Virginia man is back in the hospital and is in critical condition, though doctors don't know whether his illness is connected to his anthrax exposure.
Connie Hose said her husband, David Hose, 60, of Winchester, has been in Winchester Medical Center since Oct. 29 with a severe case of pneumonia. He is heavily sedated, with an oxygen tube in his throat, and doctors have told her that he may be in the hospital for as long as six weeks, she said yesterday.
The color is gradually returning to his face, she said. But the morning after the rescue squad brought him to the hospital, "I couldn't even believe it was him. He was gray," she said, and his body was swollen with fluid.
Doctors say it is too soon to know whether there is a link between his pneumonia and the inhalational anthrax that Hose contracted in October last year. Hose's doctors could not be reached for comment, but an official with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was notified when Hose was rehospitalized, said Hose has a common form of bacterial pneumonia.
"It's impossible to say whether they are related at this point," said David Ashford, a CDC epidemiologist. He said Hose does not have a recurrence of the anthrax infection. Ashford is heading a CDC study to follow up on the health status of all 17 survivors one year after they contracted inhalational or cutaneous anthrax. No other survivors are back in the hospital, he said.
Connie Hose believes her husband came down with pneumonia because his immune system has been so badly weakened by the anthrax infection. Asked about that possibility, Ashford said, "It's something we are looking into."
Earlier this year, Hose and several of the mail workers who survived the deadly disease said they had not recovered fully and were experiencing serious fatigue and memory loss. Hose also developed asthma.
Hose worked at the State Department's diplomatic mail facility in Sterling, where investigators believe he inhaled anthrax spores from a letter addressed to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) that was accidentally routed to the facility. He was hospitalized at Winchester Medical Center and released after 16 days of intensive treatment.
Eleven Americans contracted the inhaled form of anthrax after a rash of terrorist mailings to politicians and media outlets. Five died, including two postal workers from the mail processing center on Brentwood Road NE in Washington. Six were treated and survived.
Until the outbreak last year, inhalational anthrax was almost always fatal. As a result, researchers know very little about the experience of survivors or whether the infection has long-term effects. Earlier this year, Hose said he was frustrated that federal government researchers were not doing more to study the recovery of the survivors.
Although the CDC has collected blood from the survivors to develop better vaccines, it did not conduct a systematic study of their health immediately.
Another government agency, however, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, has begun a long-term study of anthrax survivors and is beginning to enroll participants.
"Our goal is to try and increase understanding of the anthrax infection from the time it infects the individual and potential long-term effects," said Mary Wright, who is heading the study and is chief of the biodefense clinical research branch of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.