Officials are puzzled by the infection because the woman, Kathy Nguyen, was not in direct contact with anything that was previously considered at risk. She is only the second person to be diagnosed with anthrax who was not directly involved with the postal system, the media or the government. Authorities are treating the other person, a New Jersey woman, for the more mild skin form of anthrax
Nationwide, there are sixteen confirmed cases of anthrax, six of those the cutaneous form that is far easier to treat with antibiotics. The other three deaths from the disease were two postal workers and a photo editor at a tabloid newspaper.
Nguyen, who had had flu-like symptoms for several days, worked in the stockroom in the basement of the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. The area, which had previously served as a mailroom, has tested negative for the presence of anthrax.
All preliminary tests of Nguyen’s home in the Bronx were negative as well and the Vietnamese immigrant has no immediate family in the area.
By the time Nguyen checked herself into the hospital on Monday night she was so ill she was unable to speak. Because of this officials are trying to piece how she could have contracted the disease.
“Tragically, the woman is dead and we weren’t able to communicate with her to get her version of it so the FBI and the police and the CDC have to reconstruct it from friends and circumstantial evidence,” New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said today.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said it “is critical” for investigators to track down the source of the News York woman’s infection.
More Infections, closings
Meanwhile, another New Jersey postal worker is suspected of having cutaneous anthrax. He came down with symptoms on Oct. 14 and is said to be responding well to treatment. If confirmed, his would be the fifth case of anthrax in New Jersey.
The Bellmawr postal site, where the unidentified man works was closed today while federal investigators searched for anthrax contamination. Two other New Jersey facilities have been closed since anthrax was discovered in them.
The Bellmawr site is about 30 miles from a central facility in Hamilton which handled anthrax-laden letters sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and the New York Post.
Another New Jersey woman without any connection to a known anthrax exposure was diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax on Monday. She is a bookkeeper for an accounting firm near Hamilton.