WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives and its offices were to close at the end of business Wednesday for a security sweep after it was announced that 31 people, including staffers working for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, tested positive for anthrax exposure.
Investigations also continued in Florida and Nevada while another discovery of anthrax was announced in New York -- this incident in the office of the state governor.
"The good news is everyone will be OK," Daschle told reporters Wednesday afternoon regarding the anthrax-laced letter that came to his office Monday. He added that all those exposed were being treated with antibiotics.
There was a great deal of confusion on Capitol Hill about where anthrax spores had been found.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, told reporters Wednesday his administrative office on Capitol Hill also had been quarantined for investigation of a suspicious package.
In deciding to close offices through Monday, so a complete sweep for anthrax spores could be made, Hastert initially had said, "There is no evidence that there (are anthrax spores present), but because of packages that went through the Senate machines -- they did find spores on them -- they did find a spore that was going through the ventilation system in the Senate..."
He later softened the statement by saying it was possible anthrax spores could be found in the Senate. Other Senate officials said anthrax spores had not been found there and, in fact, their presence had only been confirmed in Daschle's office in the Hart Building.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., concurred with the decision to close the House, and said the precautionary sweeps were prudent. "In the world we live in today this is the proper way to conduct business," he told reporters.
The Senate, however, chose not to close and said sessions would continue Wednesday and Thursday. Daschle said, however, the Senate staff would be sent home so Senate offices could be searched for anthrax.
"We will not let this stop the work of the Senate," Daschle said. The Senate had been scheduled, prior to the anthrax scare, to be out of session on Friday.
More than 1,000 people on Capitol Hill have been tested for anthrax exposure and lines for testing were long again Wednesday. Some of those tested were from the U.S. Supreme Court. Those employees had visited the federal credit union in the nearby Hart Senate Office Building, the location of Daschle's office.
The investigation in Washington appears to be of the type of anthrax that infects through the lungs -- the most deadly form which, if left untreated, is 90 percent fatal.
In New York, Gov. George Pataki announced Wednesday initial tests showed it was likely there were anthrax spores "in a secure area used by the State Police" at his Manhattan office.
"We don't know what the source is," Pataki said. The 38th and 39th floors of the office building have been closed and will be cleaned over the weekend.
Pataki said he and his staff were taking the antibiotic Cipro as a precautionary measure but he indicated he would not be tested for anthrax exposure. Pataki's secretary and two mail handlers were tested for anthrax exposure.
A 7-month-old child of an ABC News employee and an aide to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, both in New York, have come down with a less deadly cutaneous anthrax infection, which is contracted when spores come in contact with cuts or abrasions in the skin. Investigators are looking at whether the anthrax used in Washington and New York, may be a more sophisticated, possibly even weaponized strain -- Daschle described the anthrax found in his office as highly potent,
That would suggest the need for sophisticated scientific expertise and manufacturing equipment that might only be available to an organized group or state-sponsored operation.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Wednesday that while "there's no question that this particular anthrax is serious" it was too soon to draw any conclusions because laboratory tests were not complete. He told a Senate committee it was not fair to Americans to speculate.
U.S. Army Gen. John Parker of Fort Detrick in Fredrick, Md., which is analyzing the athrax found in Daschle's office, said the exact strain was not yet known but added, "This particular strain of anthrax is sensitive to all antibiotics."
Parker said he could not say if the anthrax had been genetically manipulated or weaponized but said the sample contained "pure spores."
In Florida's Martin County, north of Palm Beach County, a letter sent to a Planned Parenthood office tested positive for anthrax in an original screening. It was sent to a lab in Miami for further testing. Results were expected Thursday.
The letter was one of 91 similar letters sent to Planned Parenthood offices nationwide, including 15 in Florida. The letters contained powder and had a return address of the U.S. Secret Service in Atlanta. Police described it as an anti-abortion message with references to "Army of God."
More than 300 American Media Inc. employees in Boca Raton were to give a second blood sample Wednesday that will be tested for antibodies to anthrax bacteria. But health officials said even if the results are negative they will continue to take antibiotics as a precaution.
Dr. Jean Malecki, director of the Palm Beach County Health Department, said the tests can occasionally produce false positives and false negatives even when they are repeated. The employees also were tested about two weeks ago and initial results of those tests showed showed four employees with antibodies in their blood and a fifth who had inconclusive results.
"The plan was always to do a second test," said Michelle Bonds, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The second helps you see the picture a little more clearly. If there is a change, or a dramatic change in the second test that would indicate the body has mounted a defense to recent exposure."
She said because all the employees have been treated with antibiotics starting before the first tests, the two-week gap did not pose a danger.
Three employees of American Media have definitely tested positive for exposure based on nasal swabs. Photo editor Bob Stevens, 63, died of the disease Oct. 5. Mailroom employee Ernesto Blanco, 73, tested positive and was hospitalized for complications. He subsequently was diagnosed with an infection, but Wednesday that was in question. Doctors expect him to recover.
Stephanie Dailey, whose duties include the mailroom, tested positive and returned to work the next day. Blanco and Dailey are being treated with antibiotics.
Former American Media intern Jordan Arizmendi of Florida International University also remained in the hospital with a respiratory problem. He originally had been suspected of sending the letter in the case because of a farewell memo that said, "You'll remember me from all the surprises I left around." He later was cleared by the FBI.
Fellow employees at the firm said Stevens had a habit of putting reading material, including letters, up close to his face so he could see it better. Investigators said they have not found any piece of mail that might have contained the anthrax.
In a press release, the New York Times said none of 32 employees tested appeared to have been infected with anthrax after a suspicious envelope with white powder turned up in the newsroom last Thursday. The Washington Post also reported a suspicious package but the incident appears to be a false alarm.
(Les Kjos in Miami contributed to this report)