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JIM LEHRER: There were new developments in the anthrax investigation in Florida. Susan Dentzer, our health correspondent, is here for that.
Susan, welcome. What other developments? What’s new?
SUSAN DENTZER: Well, Jim, state and federal law enforcement and health authorities announced last night that a third person who worked for American Media, the publisher of National Enquirer and other tabloids does appear to have been exposed to anthrax. She tested positive for anthrax spores.
That is to say anthrax spores were found in her nose on the basis of a nasal swab. She is not ill. She’s unnamed. She’s 35 years old, but she’s not ill, she’s not in the hospital. She does not have anthrax. She’s not been infected with anthrax. She has these spores in her nose, though, which indicates that she, as the two other people of American Media, was exposed to anthrax. And this raises the possibility and the strong probability that this is a criminal act now.
JIM LEHRER: Now, spore doesn’t necessarily – why can you have a spore and not have the disease?
SUSAN DENTZER: A spore is what anthrax does when it is exposed to air — it develops a kind of cocoon, it’s a little shell. And the bacterium inside can survive for many, many years in some instances. But it has not yet penetrated the bloodstream, it hasn’t gone into the lungs, it hasn’t provoked a full-fledged toxic response in the body and therefore, resulted in an infection.
So you can walk around with these spores in your nose and not yet have them have developed into an infection. This is very good news for the woman involved, as for the man who had the same situation that was disclosed earlier this week. They can be treated preventatively with antibiotics and it’s not likely that they will become ill.
JIM LEHRER: The first one of course, it did get into his bloodstream and he did die, the first man?
SUSAN DENTZER: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Is there anything new on where this came from, where this anthrax came from?
SUSAN DENTZER: Genetic tests are now being performed on the strains to determine that. It is clear that all three individuals had the same strain, and since this cannot be passed from one person to another, it means that all three individuals got it most probably on the site there at the office building at American Media. We do not know what is the particular genetic strain yet. Those tests are being performed. There’s some suggestion that this has been…
There has been some suggestion that this is somehow linked to a strain that was found many years ago in Iowa in a Department of Agriculture lab. It was found in livestock in Iowa. That may be the case, not clear yet — some resemblance genetically apparently to a strain from Haiti from goats. We’ll know more. We may know — the Centers for Disease Control says it may be up to six weeks before we know more about the actual strain, and they’re not going to disclose any information prematurely that would impinge on what is now a full-fledged criminal investigation.
JIM LEHRER: And criminal means they know or they suspect or they’re pretty sure that somebody did this, this is not… You don’t get this from walking through the pasture or anything like that or sitting around?
SUSAN DENTZER: That’s right. The suspicion now is that this is foul play. The fact that this is, first of all, inhalational anthrax, it’s one of three forms of anthrax, but it happens to be a very rare form — the fact that spores were found on the computer keyboard in one of the offices at American Media, all of those things seem to suggest that this anthrax… These anthrax spores were placed there deliberately by some individual.
JIM LEHRER: But we don’t know yet when I say we, I mean the big we the Justice Department says there’s been no connection yet to any terrorist action per se related to September 11.
SUSAN DENTZER: That’s right, but that evidence now is largely circumstantial. It’s based on the fact that these anthrax spores that seem to be responding well to antibiotics. They don’t seem to be a super engineered form of anthrax that might have been made by a terrorist, designed to be antibiotic-resistant. So at this point, it looks like it’s not bio terrorism. It looks like it’s a criminal act, but we will obviously have to wait for more information in future days.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, Susan, thank you.