TOPICS > Health

State Department Mail Employee Infected With Anthrax

BY Admin  October 25, 2001 at 7:20 PM EST

Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams today confirmed the man had contracted the most deadly form of anthrax bacteria, but officials said they did not know how or where the man was exposed to the disease.

The facility has been closed and all mail-handling employees have been put on antibiotics, State Dept. spokesman Richard Boucher said. The facility received mail from the Brentwood postal hub in Washington, where two employees have died from anthrax exposure.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Daschle said this evening two more anthrax-contaminated spots were found in the Hart Senate office building, where his own office is located.

“Evidence of anthrax was found on the air-conditioning filter of the ninth floor of the Hart building and at the stairwell leading from the eighth to the ninth floor. Experts say this is neither a surprise nor a concern,” Daschle said on the Senate floor.

The spots were found in the same southeast wing as Daschle’s office, where an anthrax-laced letter was discovered on Oct. 15.

Earlier, investigators found a small number of anthrax spores in a bank of first-floor elevators in the building’s southwest quadrant. Daschle’s office is located on the fifth and sixth floors of the southeast quadrant of the Hart building.

Portions of the Hart building have now been sealed off to allow cleanup efforts to begin.

Two of the three House office buildings reopened today. The Rayburn and Cannon buildings had been closed since Oct. 17 for anthrax testing.

Meanwhile, officials said a female employee of an electronic news organization may have contracted inhaled anthrax. If confirmed, the woman would be the first person to contract that form of anthrax from the Capitol Hill incident. She is being treated at Holy Cross Hospital in suburban Maryland.

Daschle anthrax ‘concentrated’

The anthrax sent in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was highly concentrated and made “to be more easily absorbed” by its recipients, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said today.

Ridge said the anthrax found in letters to Daschle, in a letter sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and found at the American Media building in Florida all came from the same strain and had not been genetically altered. He said samples of the strain have been shown to respond to antibiotics.

But Ridge said the anthrax sent to Daschle was different from the others in that it was “highly concentrated. It’s pure and the spores are smaller,” he said. “Therefore they’re more dangerous because they can be more easily absorbed in a person’s respiratory system.”

The Washington Post today reported the anthrax in the Daschle letter was treated with a chemical additive to make it more deadly.

Citing unnamed government sources, the Post said the anthrax spores were treated with chemicals to make them stay suspended in the air, making them more likely to be inhaled. The Post reports the U.S., the former Soviet Union and Iraq are the only countries known to be able to produce such chemicals.

Combating the anthrax threat

As more Americans line up to receive anthrax-fighting drugs, federal and local officials continue to implement plans to battle the anthrax threat.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control reported today, nearly 10,000 Americans are taking anthrax-fighting drugs on the government’s advice — many stemming from anthrax discoveries at U.S. post offices.

Ridge said the U.S. Postal Service had begun environmental testing at 200 facilities along the East Coast, with spot checks occurring at sites across the country.

Postal Service officials, meanwhile, said they were preparing to issue masks and gloves to more than 800,000 postal employees and was looking into new technology to better bacteria-proof the mail system.

Postmaster General John Potter said his agency is “taking concrete steps immediately to protect employees and the public through education, investigation, intervention and prevention.”

More than 6,000 postal workers in Washington DC have been tested for anthrax exposure in the wake of the deaths of two DC postal workers from the bacteria. The two men worked at Washington’s Brentwood mail facility — the District’s largest mail sorting plant. The facility itself has tested positive for anthrax spores and District officials said they have begun testing 36 other local post offices.

Two other DC postal workers have been diagnosed with the potentially deadly inhaled form of anthrax, while as many as 15 others linked to the Brentwood outbreak with anthrax-like symptoms are being treated at local hospitals, the Associated Press reports.

An additional 200 postal employees near Baltimore, Md. and 14 in Richmond, Va. are being tested for possible exposure stemming from contact with mail sent through the Brentwood facility.

More than 800 postal workers in Trenton, N.J. have been tested for anthrax exposure after two postal workers there were diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax, the less dangerous “skin” form of the bacteria. One other employee is suspected of having contracted cutaneous anthrax.

Meanwhile, doctors suspect a Hamilton, NJ postal employee has contracted inhaled anthrax. Doctors say she is in serious condition and has been on antibiotics for the last five days.

Officials are also testing a co-worker, also a woman, who they believe could be another case of inhaled anthrax.

Another anthrax case at NBC

Meanwhile in New York, a second NBC employee is being treated for a case of “probable” cutaneous anthrax after handling a letter mailed to anchor Tom Brokaw last month, health officials say.

The anthrax-laced letter, dated Sept. 18, is also believed to be the source of the first NBC skin anthrax case, which affected Brokaw’s assistant.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the newly-diagnosed employee, a woman, has been taking antibiotics since Oct. 1 and is expected to make a full recovery.

The second NBC case follows a spate of cutaneous anthrax cases at the New York offices of media organizations, including one each at CBS, ABC and The New York Post. Doctors are still awaiting tests on a second possible case of skin anthrax from the Post.