MIXED SIGNALS OVER TESTING 



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Last Updated

14 Dec 2002

Source: Newsday, October 14, 2001.

Mixed Signals Over Testing

Conflicting information troubles NBC workers

By Bryn Nelson, STAFF WRITER

Although health authorities are recommending preventive antibiotics for NBC personnel who may have been exposed to anthrax at the news agency's Manhattan headquarters, worried employees say they've received conflicting information from a company-sponsored hotline.

An NBC employee who called the hotline yesterday said she was told she could receive the test at any local hospital. After waiting in an emergency room for more than four hours, however, she was turned away.

According to New York City Department of Health guidelines sent to area hospitals Friday afternoon, only employees of NBC who were present on the third floor (where two suspicious letters were opened), the seventh floor (where they were carried to security), or in the mail room on either Sept. 18 or Sept. 25 are considered at risk and should take antibiotics as a preventive measure.

When a Newsday reporter called the NBC hotline yesterday afternoon, however, an operator said only third-floor employees should be tested, adding that the recommendation was not limited to any specific dates.

City health officials said that unlike in Florida, the potential anthrax exposure at NBC's headquarters is limited because of its defined source.

The NBC employee who sought the test works on the seventh floor, but was absent from the news agency's Rockefeller Plaza headquarters on both Sept. 18 and 25. She spoke on condition of anonymity.

An assistant to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw working on the third floor received suspicious envelopes on those dates, each of which contained a powdery substance. The employee, identified as Erin O'Connor (case 2), 38, has contracted cutaneous anthrax but has been receiving the antibiotic Cipro for about two weeks and is expected to fully recover. Yesterday, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the letter received on the 18th tested positive for anthrax.

NBC did not return several calls seeking comment.

Nassau University Medical Center spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said the hospital has been following the New York City guidelines, and that only employees associated with the specific NBC sites will receive preventive antibiotics.

"If they come with flu-like symptoms, obviously they will be evaluated," Lotenberg said. "No one's ever turned away."

Richard Bagdonas, an attending physician in the hospital's emergency department, said a handful of area residents sought tests or antibiotics at the hospital on Thursday and Friday. The NBC employee who spoke to Newsday sought treatment elsewhere.

"There's a high vigilance now for any signs and symptoms," Bagdonas said. However, none of the individuals was symptomatic, he said.

Bagdonas said the hospital has also been following Nassau County guidelines, which state that no credible threat of anthrax has been found in the county after investigations by law and hazardous materials agencies at several sites on Thursday and Friday.

Doctors say one positive development may be the opportunity to educate the public about the risks and benefits of antibiotics such as Cipro, the drug of choice for treating anthrax. As a preventive treatment, Cipro is prescribed in doses of 500 mg twice a day for 60 days.

"Most of the side effects are mild, but people recognize that antibiotics being given for a length of time are potentially dangerous," Bagdonas said. "They're not just vitamin pills."