Anthrax Scare Hits Senate Majority Leader’s Office

Senator Daschle said he is “angered and disappointed” by the occurrence and said the staff member who opened the letter is still undergoing tests.

Daschle was not in his Hart building office, which is one block from the Capitol, at the time the letter was opened. The office has since been quarantined, so he cannot enter the area.

All 40 people who may have come in contact with the package were tested for exposure and so far any exposure is said to be “minimal to none,” Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols said.

Those in the office when the letter was opened are being treated with the antibiotic ciprofloxacin as a preventative measure.

At least one staff member was exposed to the powdery substance when it fell out of the envelope upon opening. Authorities were quickly notified and Daschle said he was gratified by the quick response.

“We have to be alert, we have to recognize that the risk is higher than it was a couple of weeks ago, but we have to live our lives,” the Senate Majority Leader said.

The anthrax scare comes after several other incidents in Florida, New York, and Nevada that have left 12 people exposed and one man dead from the bacteria.

The package, which arrived at Daschle’s office on Friday, was postmarked from Trenton, N.J. on Sept. 18. Last week a staff member at NBC News in New York tested positive for anthrax after handling a letter with the same postmark.

Officials say two postal employees in New Jersey have reported possible symptoms of anthrax and are being tested for exposure.

The letter from Daschle’s office has now been field-tested twice and in both cases came up positive for anthrax. Officials have sent it for definitive testing at an Army medical research facility at Fort Detrick, Md., Nichols said.

President Bush said a sample of the powder has also been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional testing.

Staff members will have to wait for two days until nasal swab tests show results, but so far no preliminary tests have indicated any infections. The Capitol doctor said that if any cultures to the tests show up earlier, those results will be reported.

Since the letter was reported, congressional offices were told to stop opening their mail until it is checked by the sergeant-at-arms.

A memo said the mail would be “picked up … for additional screening and returned to you as soon as possible.”

President Bush said said today that there is no hard evidence that recent anthrax scares are connected to terrorist Osama bin Laden, but “there may be some possible link.”