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Anthrax Scare

October 12, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: A case of anthrax was confirmed in New York City today, and it deepened concerns about possible use of anthrax by terrorists. Our health correspondent Susan Dentzer reports.

SUSAN DENTZER: The case involved an NBC news employee, who’s an assistant to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw. She tested positive for an anthrax infection today. At a press conference in New York, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani explained that mail containing a suspicious powder had arrived at NBC back on September 25.

MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI: It is likely that this issue all began way back on September 25. So one piece of good news is that if anyone else was going to be infected, it would have happened by now, if this were some kind of case that was going to have large implication, or at least we’re hopeful of that. Having said that, the CDC feels that the best thing to do is to test, environmentally test the areas where there may have been exposure. So that would be one floor of this building and one or two other areas. They’re going to be closed down for a while. And the woman who apparently is infected by it, according to the tests we got back from the CDC, she has been treated with Cipro from way back October 1. Her doctor began giving her treatment with Cipro and appears to be recovering completely. We hope she will recover completely.

SUSAN DENTZER: Also today, the New York Times headquarters building in Manhattan was closed off around noon, after another suspicious package was received, addressed to times reporter and editor Judith Miller. Miller is an expert on the Middle East and terrorism who recently wrote a book on bioterrorism. The form of anthrax diagnosed in the NBC employee, Erin O’Connor, is different from that in the Florida case that resulted in the recent death last week of Robert Stevens, a photo editor for tabloid publisher American Media international. Stevens had so-called inhalational anthrax, contracted through the nose and lungs. By contrast, O’Connor of NBC was diagnosed with so-called cutaneous anthrax, which is contracted through cuts or scraped in the skin. In Florida today, officials said that 965 employees and relatives of those at American Media had been tested. Aside from two earlier instances, in which employees of the company tested positive for anthrax spores in their nostrils, all other results were negative.

HECTOR PESQUERA, FBI: More than a thousand individuals have been tested for possible exposure. And as of today, we’re very happy, extremely happy to report that 965 of those results are back and we only have one exposure.

SUSAN DENTZER: In Washington, officials said it’s unclear for now whether the cases in Florida and New York are related.

JOHN ASHCROFT: At this time we do not have any evidence that links the anthrax case in Florida to the New York matter. The FBI offices are coordinating their efforts to bring their full investigative resources to bear.

SUSAN DENTZER: And for now, it also remains an entirely unanswered question whether the developments in Florida or New York have any relationship at all to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

BARRY MAWN: We see no connection whatsoever to 9/11. The way we would handle this is to open it as a separate criminal matter and proceed from there.

SUSAN DENTZER: In Washington today, President Bush said the public should not be unduly alarmed.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The government is doing everything in our power to protect our citizenry. We need each other more than ever, and we’re responding as quickly and as forcefully as we can. The American people need to go about their lives. We cannot let the terrorists lock our country down.

SUSAN DENTZER: But at the same time, officials said people should be vigilant.

JOHN ASHCROFT: People ask me what should they do? If you see anything suspicious, contact your local law enforcement officials. If there’s any powder that is sent to you in an envelope or in a package, if it’s suspicious, give it to your local law enforcement, contact your local health department. If you have any kind of skin lesions that are growing and are itchy and are dark in color, contact your doctor.