3rd NJ postal worker has inhaled anthrax

By ELLEN BECK  |  Oct. 28, 2001 at 8:44 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Sunday a third New Jersey postal worker has inhalation anthrax infection, bringing the total number to eight, including three people who have died from the most serious form of the disease.

The CDC said the woman, who had been a suspected case of anthrax prior to Sunday, was being treated with antibiotics and was "clinically improving." She works at the Hamilton Township postal facility near Trenton.

Two Washington, D.C. postal workers and American Media Inc. photo editor Bob Stevens, of Lantana, Fla., have died from the infection. A co-worker of Stevens also was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax but is recovering at home. Two other D.C. postal workers and one State Department worker who also have this type of anthrax remain hospitalized in the Washington area. Five other people, in New Jersey and New York, have been diagnosed with the less serious cutaneous or skin form of anthrax infection.

The U.S. Supreme Court was set Monday to convene for a court session, for the first time, at a site outside of the current Supreme Court building. Justices were to hold court at the federal courthouse for the District of Columbia. Anthrax spores were found Friday at a court mail facility in suburban Maryland and the court building itself was closed for further testing for anthrax spores.

Also Sunday, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a member of the Senate International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services Subcommittee, said genetic testing on anthrax spores sent in letters through the mail was underway at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

"They will be testing to see whether or not the strain of anthrax has been modified genetically," Domenici said on NBC's "McLaughlin One on One."

There has been ongoing debate about whether anthrax found in a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., had been genetically modified or coated with some type of chemical that would make it more lethal or easier to disperse through the air.

Some officials have insisted it was not altered, others called it weapons grade. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson told a Senate committee it was a "garden variety" of anthrax but then added he did not have any information on whether it was modified genetically.

Government officials have said the anthrax was pure and the spores so small a size that it was consistent with anthrax made to be a bioterrorist weapon. Just who would have the ability and technology to do it -- an individual or a government entity -- also was a key topic of discussion over the past week.

Investigators said the Daschle letter, opened by his staff on Oct. 15, may be linked to an anthrax-laced letter sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw because of similar handwriting on the envelope. It is believed letters sent to Daschle, Brokaw and the New York Post all traveled through the Hamilton Township facility.

On Saturday, the U.S. Postal Service said it was closing that facility, after tests on a mail bin taken Friday tested positive for a small colony of anthrax bacteria. It also had closed the West Trenton mail facility after the pathogen was found there, as well.

Health officials in New York said Saturday they were re-examining the death of a postal supervisor who worked at the Morgan Center -- originally thought to have been caused by high blood pressure -- to see if anthrax may have been involved.

The New York Metro Postal Union said it will seek court action to shut the Morgan Center, which apparently handled the Brokaw anthrax letter, until it is completely cleaned and retested. None of the workers at the Morgan Center have tested positive for anthrax but the antibiotic Cipro was made available to thousands of employees who work there.

Postal officials said workers were cleaning machines in the Manhattan postal facility found contaminated with anthrax last week.

In Washington, postal officials closed a southwest post office about 12 blocks from the U.S. Capitol Saturday, as anthrax hot spots continue to be identified downstream from the Brentwood mail sorting facility near Capitol Hill, which handled the Daschle letter.

The CDC and local health officials said many downstream post office sites, government agencies and private businesses are served by the Brentwood facility and were being contacted for potential environmental site and employee testing for anthrax.

(With additional reporting by Dee Ann Divis in Washington)

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