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Anthrax Update

October 16, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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SUSAN DENTZER: The bioterrorist threat broadened last night with news that at least two more people had become infected by anthrax bacteria. In New York, ABC News executives announced that one was the seven-month-old son of an ABC producer. The baby was diagnosed with a form of anthrax infection contracted through the skin. The infant and his mother had visited ABC News Manhattan headquarters for a party on September 28. ABC News president David Westin gave details on the investigations underway.

DAVID WESTIN, ABC News President: One is conducted jointly by the police department and the health officials and the FBI, Interviewing everyone who might have come in contact with the child or been in the vicinity over a range of time. The other aspect is they bring in very high-tech machinery and they go through the areas that could have been involved.

SUSAN DENTZER: In Florida, a 73-year-old mailroom employee at American Media who had earlier been exposed to anthrax was diagnosed with a far more dangerous inhaled version of the infection. There are now four known cases of full-blown anthrax infection in the United States, two cases of so-called cutaneous anthrax in New York including the infant, and two cases of inhalational anthrax in Florida. One of those cases of inhalational anthrax resulted in the death of Bob Stevens, a photo editor with American Media on October 5. All others who have been infected are being treated with antibiotics and are expected to recover. At least nine other people around the country have tested positive for exposure to anthrax but they have not become sick. Meanwhile federal and state health officials in Florida are using antibody blood tests to monitor American Media workers for exposure. In Washington 12 Senate offices were closed today, one day after a letter addressed to Majority Leader Tom Daschle tested positive for anthrax. Police spokesman Dan Nicholls said they don’t know yet if the bacteria are to be found elsewhere in the Capitol complex.

LT. DAN NICHOLS: We don’t think it came into the ventilation system. We want to make sure it did not. We’re going to err on the side of caution on this. This is a precautionary measure. You’re going to find that we’re going to take extraordinary, extraordinary measures to ensure the safety and security of the congressional community during this time. Even though it’s an unusual action to close down part of a Senate office building and disrupt the workings of the Senators’ offices, we feel it’s an important measure to take.

SUSAN DENTZER: The Capitol’s attending physician said people who passed through the building would have nasal swab tests and today as many as a thousand lined up to be tested.

DR. JOHN EISOLD, Attending Physician, Capitol: We then made a decision to go ahead and test anybody who had been in those spaces subsequent to the incident yesterday, whether they were working there, passing through there, visiting, whoever they were. Including the cleaning crews, the police, the investigators, medical personnel and so on.

SUSAN DENTZER: Post offices, corporate mailrooms and newsrooms around the country are scrambling to put in place new procedures. In Boca Raton, a mail-sorting facility was shut down after anthrax spores were found inside yesterday. Mail delivery at the capital was halted, and news organizations beefed up security urging employees not to open suspicious envelopes. In California, state officials released a video online telling workers how to handle mail, and Governor Gray Davis ordered state employees to stop handling any correspondence until they complete training sessions.

SPOKESMAN: We’re going to talk about today the events that have taken place.

SUSAN DENTZER: Reacting to the real and the many false anthrax reports has stretched the resources of health and law enforcement agencies around the country. At the Justice Department this afternoon, FBI Director Robert Mueller said there have been thousands of false alarms.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director: Since October 1, the FBI Has received more than 2300 incidents or suspected incidents involving anthrax or other dangerous agents. And as all of you know, an overwhelming majority of these incidents have been false alarms or practical jokes. Nonetheless, the FBI will devote whatever resources are necessary to investigate each of these situations.

SUSAN DENTZER: Attorney General John Ashcroft warned that those who fake anthrax or other terrorist threats will face federal prosecution.

JOHN ASHCROFT, Attorney General: These acts are serious violations of the law and grotesque transgressions of the public trust. False terrorist threats tax the resources of an already overburdened enforcement system and a public health system. They create illegitimate alarm in a time of legitimate concern. Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes but are the destructive acts of cowards. The Department of Justice will prosecute and punish with the full force of our laws those who issue false anthrax threats or any other form of terrorist threat. Yesterday the United States attorney for the District of Connecticut charged Joseph Farnyars of Coventry, Connecticut with intentionally making false statements to a federal agent in connection with an anthrax hoax.

SUSAN DENTZER: So far law enforcement officials say they haven’t made a firm connection between the September 11 attacks and the acts of bioterrorism now underway, but they said there may be a link between the envelope sent to NBC’s Tom Brokaw and the one sent to Senator Daschle which officials released today. Both were postmarked from Trenton, New Jersey. Meanwhile, there are some concerns about the availability of one of the antibiotics used to treat anthrax, ciprofloxin or cipro. At the White House today, spokesman Ari Fleischer said the supply of cipro was plentiful.

ARI FLEISCHER: The United States government has some two million antibiotics available in the case of treating anthrax symptoms, and if you take a look at what’s happened now, you’ve seen at most several thousand people, at most, who have even been tested for possible exposure out of a supply of some two million. Health professionals have told people if they’re coming in, that there is no need to take this unless there has been an exposure. As you know there have been very few places of any confirmed exposures.

SUSAN DENTZER: As reports circulated late today of potentially suspicious mail at other media organizations, federal agencies continued to probe the origins of bacteria used in the attacks. In addition to genetic analysis of those samples they’ve asked research labs around the country to verify what anthrax stores they have on hand and to certify that these are being tightly controlled.