- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Authorities probing the death of a New York hospital worker are bewildered over how the woman contracted inhalation anthrax, as they scramble to determine whether the scope of the disease is more widespread than they originally thought.
Officials said yesterday Kathy T. Nguyen, 61, who worked in a storage room in the basement of a Manhattan hospital, did not directly handle any anthrax-laced letters that were sent to the District, New Jersey, New York and Florida as did three other persons who died from the same form of the disease last month.
White House officials said preliminary tests of Mrs. Nguyen's home and workplace showed no signs of anthrax. However, anthrax spores were found on Mrs. Nguyen's clothes, which she apparently wore to the hospital when she checked herself in Tuesday.
"This is an event of concern and the president is discussing this with his team," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said at a news conference. "All the results of both her home and her office are preliminary negative."
New York officials said last night they are trying to retrace the last week of the woman's life for clues that could lead them to the source of the wave of bioterrorism that has hit the East Coast.
"What we're trying to do is backtrack in this woman's life," New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said at a news conference. Investigators will see "who her friends were, whom she associated with, who knows where she's been, look at her apartment, look at her workplace," he said.
Mrs. Nguyen's death is the fourth anthrax fatality nationwide since Oct. 5. Five others in Virginia and New Jersey four postal workers and one State Department mailroom employee remain hospitalized with the same form of the disease in serious condition.
Nine persons have contracted skin anthrax, the less severe form of the disease. Two others Mrs. Nguyen's co-worker and a sixth New Jersey postal worker were being tested for possible skin anthrax late last night.
Meanwhile, Attorney General John Ashcroft said there was no progress to report in the Justice Department's investigation into tracking down the source of the tainted letters. Mr. Ashcroft said investigators are "working very hard" to identify those responsible.
"This is a matter of great concern to us, and not merely to the Justice Department authorities but to a number of others, from state and local authorities to the postal authorities," Mr. Ashcroft said at a news conference.
"And we are working very hard to try and to locate the source and determine ways to prevent additional problems and threats associated with it. But I'm not in a position to be able to say to you that we are on the brink of making an announcement here. We don't have progress to report at this time," said Mr. Ashcroft.
As authorities continued their probe, the deadly bacteria continued to spread to the Midwest, as traces of anthrax were found on a postal machine at a repair and cleaning facility in Indiana. No signs of infection had been found among the 103 workers who work at the facility, officials said.
The machine was sent to the Indianapolis repair shop from the Brentwood Road Mail Processing Facility in Northeast, where two postal workers died from inhalation anthrax last week.
Brentwood is also the facility that processed an anthrax-laden letter that was sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. The facility has been closed since Oct. 21.
Meanwhile, the hunt for spores in the District and in other parts of the country continued as officials tried to contain the spread of the disease, health and postal officials said yesterday.
"Investigators will continue to search [the facilities] until we're very sure that no stone has been left unturned," Kristin Krathwohl, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said last night.
Some 200 mail-handling facilities along the East Cost and West Coast are being tested for anthrax, Miss Krathwohl said. She, however, would not say yesterday which postal facilities were undergoing testing, except that the facilities are those that handle high volumes of mail.
D.C. officials said last night no new cases or suspected cases were reported yesterday. Officials said three post offices where anthrax had been found L Street in Southwest, Friendship Station in Northwest and the post office near Washington Dulles International Airport have been decontaminated and reopened.
Investigators also found no signs of anthrax at the air mail facility, near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where one of the infected Brentwood postal workers had worked.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta yesterday recommended to city officials that some people may stop taking antibiotics.
Dr. Patrick J. Meehan, a CDC spokesman, said the CDC found that anthrax apparently was spread from Brentwood to other facilities. Brentwood is divided into two areas where mail sorted for the government agencies is separate from mail delivered to the private sector.
Dr. Meehan said that anthrax spores had spread only to federal facilities or other Postal Service facilities, but not to private businesses. He said the CDC recommends only media outlets, which have been targeted with the tainted letters, and private businesses that use mail-sorting machinery or employees at federal installations where spores were found need to continue testing for anthrax.
Dr. Meehan said there have been no cases of inhalation form of anthrax "in the receipt of regular mail."
But D.C Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he will be cautious in following the CDC's recommendation. "We have entered into a new world after September 11. We are going to have to assess those risks," Mr. Williams said. "As a local government, we need to assure the health and safety of our citizens. We are concerned about every worker, whether they are big shots or not."
City officials will decide today whether to continue treating people with the 60-day supply of antibiotics.
"We have to go through it and look at it overnight," said Dr. Ivan Walks, D.C. chief health official.
In other developments yesterday, State Department officials said anthrax was found on two of five mailbags from the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, the first anthrax case in Europe.
The embassy mailroom has been sealed and treatment will be offered to any embassy employee who wants it, said Richard Boucher, a State Department spokesman.
Also, military officials suspended the "Operation Dear Abby" and "Any Service Member" mail programs, both of which allowed Americans to send letters of support for U.S. service members stationed overseas.
Mr. Ashcroft said tests were still being conducted to determine whether there were any traces of anthrax at the Justice Department. Small traces of the bacteria were found earlier this week in a department's off-site mail facility in Landover.
Spores were also found this week at the Supreme Court, Health and Human Services building, and the Food and Drug Administration.
An estimated 440 Supreme Court employees got a clean bill of health yesterday, but the main courthouse will remain closed at least one more day, court information officer Kathy Arberg said. Decisions on whether to end treatments prescribed earlier await further environmental testing inside the court.
"No court personnel have shown any signs of being exposed to, or having developed, any form of anthrax," Mrs. Arberg said.
The nine justices, all of whom are on antibiotics, canceled Friday's scheduled conference and postponed for a week the hundreds of cases due for consideration.
Jerry Seper, Frank J. Murray, Ben Barber, and Jim Keary contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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