The secretary-general of the Desaguadero region, near Peru's border with Bolivia, has linked the fall of the meteorite with a wave of headaches, diarrhea and vomiting in the village of Caranca. A strong odor emanating from the impact crater is blamed.

Seven police officers who went to investigate the meteorite also took ill; the officers have been taken to the local hospital, where they were given oxygen and fluids to help them recover.

The Peruvian daily La Republica reported that the impact crater was about 18 feet deep and 90 feet across.

Since information about the incident is limited, speculation is rife on Internet websites. On Slashdot, for example, readers speculate that the meteorite, hot from its passage through the atmosphere, may have heated noxious chemicals or microorganisms from deep within the soil and thrown them into the air. Another alternative is that a piece of space debris containing trace amounts of radioactive materials fell to earth and is causing low-level radiation sickness.

Science fiction readers may find themselves thinking of The Andromeda Strain, the 1969 novel by Michael Crichton. In the story, a satellite designed to orbit close to earth and then return with samples of any microorganisms crashlands in the small town of Piedmont, Arizona. An Air Force jet overflight revealed these details:

"He dropped his nose, cracked down his flaps, and felt a shudder as the plane sank sickeningly, like a stone, toward the ground. Below him, the area around the town was lighted for hundreds of yards in every direction. He pressed the camera buttons and felt, rather than heard, the vibrating whir of the cameras.

He had a fleeting glimpse of the main street. He saw bodies, bodies everywhere, spreadeagled, lying in the streets, across cars..."

I don't want to spoil the plot, but let's say there is some reason for concern.

Via Slashdot and Mystery illness strikes. Thanks to Jonathan who wrote in with the story.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction).