SIX ANTHRAX INFECTIONS CONFIRMED 



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Last Updated

08 Jun 2003

Source: Detroit Free Press, October 18, 2001.

Six anthrax infections confirmed, $1 million reward offered

By JESSE J. HOLLAND, ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- Two new cases of the skin form of anthrax were reported Thursday, one involving an assistant to CBS anchorman Dan Rather and the other a postal worker in New Jersey. That brought to six the total number of confirmed cases of infection.

In addition, up to three more suspected cases were being investigated, according to Dr. Julie Gerberding of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The additional cases "are in large part linked to Florida and New York situations,'' she said.

"We do have other individuals who are reporting skin lesi+ons or exposure circumstances that are under active investigation,'' Gerberding said in a telephone conference with reporters. "We are working around the clock to confirm or rule out'' anthrax infection.

The new cases were reported as the FBI and the Postal Service offered a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of perpetrators of anthrax attacks, the House of Representatives remained dark and six congressional office buildings were closed for further germ tests. The Senate remained in business.

Overseas, a letter containing a suspicious substance was found at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Employees who handled it were being given appropriate tests, said Philip Reeker, the deputy State Department spokesman.

Seeking to calm an anxious nation, Homeland Defense Director Tom Ridge said that despite the new case, "thousands and thousands and thousands'' of people had been tested for anthrax exposure -- and had come up negative.

"We are more vigilant today and continue to get more vigilant every day as we assess different risks that might present themselves in this country,'' Ridge said in his first news conference since taking the job last week.

"I think our antennae are up for all conceivable risks and you ought to be reassured of that,'' he added.

On Capitol Hill, the number of those who tested positive to exposure stood at 31, with no cases of infection reported, Kenneth Moritsugu, deputy surgeon general, told an afternoon news conference.

All appear to have been exposed to an anthrax-laden letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.., that was opened Monday, Moritsugu said.

Mortisugu said that a sweep throughout the sprawling Capitol complex will continue over the next several days to check for anthrax spores.

"At this time there is no evidence of contamination in the ventilation system,'' Moritsugu added.

Moritsugu added that analysis of 600 of the 1,400 nasal swab tests performed Tuesday had revealed no additional positive results in preliminary tests. "We continue to see good news,'' he told reporters at a briefing.

Both the CBS employee and the New Jersey postal worker contracted the skin form of anthrax, officials said.

The postal worker may have handled letters to NBC and to Daschle, acting New Jersey Gov. Donald DiFrancesco said in Trenton. Test results for a second postal employee who may have been exposed to the disease were pending, DiFrancesco said.

The CBS employee, an assistant to Rather, was expected to fully recover, CBS officials said. They said that the infection was on her cheek.

"She has no memory whatsoever ... of any mail, anything in the mail that raised any suspicions whatsoever,'' Rather said. ABC spokesman Todd Polkes said that because the NBC and CBS news anchormen had apparently been targeted, extra precautions are being taken with mail addressed to ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings.

Meanwhile, Postmaster General John Potter, appearing with Ridge and other officials at a joint news conference on the anthrax outbreaks, said that the Postal Service would mail within the next week "a postcard to everyone in America'' outlining what they should be suspicious in mail they receive.

"We believe the mail is safe -- it's very safe if you follow the prudent directions'' we are providing, Potter said.

The officials briefed reporters as a new infection of the skin form of anthrax was reported in an assistant to CBS News anchorman Dan Rather.

Ridge said that "thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been tested for anthrax exposure, and thousands of environmental samples have been taken as well. Yet only five people have tested positive for this time for anthrax.''

Ridge mentioned the five previously confirmed cases of anthrax infection: two in Florida, including one who died; an NBC assistant to Tom Brokaw; the infant son of an ABC producer; and the new CBS case.

"We're in the process of confirming a sixth,'' Ridge said, but declined to elaborate.

Mitchell Cohen, infectious-disease specialist with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested the information on the sixth case would be announced later in the day.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, meanwhile, pledged to prosecute to the "fullest extent of the law'' all cases of hoaxes involving anthrax or other biomedical threats.

Four people have been charged in four false anthrax threat cases so far, Ashcroft said.

Such hoaxes "create illegitimate alarm in a time of legitimate concern,'' Ashcroft said.

So far, tests on Senate workers have not turned up any instances of infection, although the number of those exposed to anthrax remained at 31 people, most of them in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., officials said.

Deputy Surgeon General Ken Moritsugu said the 31 were among a total of 3,000 nasal swabs that had been evaluated after an anthrax-laden letter addressed to Daschle was opened on Monday.

Still, tests performed at the Capitol complex were likely to show at least a few more were exposed to anthrax, beyond the 31 confirmed, said Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a doctor. He expressed confidence that early treatment would succeed against any who might end up infected.

The threat prompted a divergent course at Congress, with the Senate staying open for at least a limited session and the House closing until Tuesday. All six House and Senate office buildings were closed for further tests, however.

Employees on Capitol Hill lined up Thursday morning for more testing and to receive an antibiotic if necessary.

Meanwhile, in what may be the first case of tainted mail outside the United States, officials in Kenya said Thursday a letter mailed to an unidentified recipient in their country from Atlanta has tested positive for anthrax spores.

Authorities have not been able to link the anthrax cases with the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but continue to investigate the possibility

In New York, three of four Osama bin Laden disciples convicted in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa received life without parole Thursday.

The United States views bin Laden as the mastermind behind both those 1998 bombings and the suicide airliner hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.