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Tracking Anthrax

Susan Dentzer reports on health issues surrounding the anthrax threats.

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  • TOMMY THOMPSON:

    In the wake of September 11th, the recent anthrax cases in Florida, New York and here on the Hill, there are significant questions about our preparedness, our overall coordination within government and, yes, our ability to respond.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was one of several top officials who briefed lawmakers today on the bioterrorist attacks and investigations. They asked about reports suggesting that the perpetrators had produced samples for dispersal in an extremely effective manner.

  • SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN:

    Is it correct to infer that the reason that such a large number were infected in Senator Daschle's office, larger in the other instances where it was mailed was to other offices, was because of the pure and more refined state of anthrax that was sent to the Daschle office?

  • TOMMY THOMPSON:

    You certainly can draw that conclusion. But the tests have not been finalized, so I don't want to speculate. But there's no question this was a very serious attempt at anthrax poisoning.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Thompson also took pains to point out that so far, those in or near Daschle's office had only been exposed to anthrax spores, not infected and made ill. Thompson then explained that the anthrax samples were prepared to be easily dispersed in the air, enabling the disease to be spread in its most deadly inhalational form.

  • TOMMY THOMPSON:

    It has to be a certain size to get into the body. If it smaller than one micron or larger than ten microns, then it's not able to be inhaled.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Dr. Scott Lillibridge, Thompson's top assistant on bioterrorism, explained that although the samples used in the attacks had been highly concentrated, it was unclear whether they had been "weaponized."

  • DR. SCOTT LILLIBRIDGE:

    The issue of weaponization, or weapons grade, is often used in literature to evoke large industrial investment in preparing samples for dissemination. It includes milling down the spores so they're easy to disseminate, it involves coding the spores so they stay in the air a little longer. It involves research into dissemination devices, different ways to move it to the population. We don't have any of that information on this particular sample.

  • SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN:

    How difficult is it to obtain anthrax?

  • SPOKESMAN:

    Well, there's a lot of different anthrax, a lot of it is naturally in blood of animals, that once the animal dies gets emitted into the air, it's emitted in culture. There are laboratories across America that have had anthrax and have done research and experiments on it. This anthrax that we have right now we're still doing research on, we do not know the exact strains or where it comes from.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Late today it was reported that preliminary analysis of the anthrax used in the New York and Florida attacks show both to be of the same genetic strain. But still other experts noted today that even with the most sophisticated genetic analysis, it will be difficult if not impossible to pinpoint a single source of the anthrax.

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