- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Federal health officials yesterday downplayed the threat of traces of anthrax spores being detected in government buildings.
"Right now, we're saying that the levels we're finding pose little risk," said Mary Kay, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Anthrax spores have turned up in small amounts after additional testing in the offices of 10 senators in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill since the weekend.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer is the latest on the list and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, got word Monday that his office had anthrax spores in it. The eight others, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, were told during the weekend.
Some traces are so small disease experts say they are virtually harmless and can be found in public buildings in most any farm town. These tiny "finds" are a source of frustration to overworked federal anthrax hunters.
Officials believe the original anthrax-laced letter that was opened Oct. 14 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, ended up contaminating letters delivered to the other offices.
"It is possible that there was anthrax in these offices before [the Daschle letter was opened]," Miss Kay said. "But it's more likely, from the amount that has been found, it [came] from the [Daschle] letter."
Anthrax spores spreading from the Daschle letter into the airflow may have gotten into the ventilation system connecting the various offices.
When the Daschle letter was sorted on Oct. 12, it went through just one mail-sorting machine at the Brentwood Mail Processing Center in Northeast. But tiny bits of anthrax puffing out of the letter managed to contaminate 17 other sorters in the center, U.S. postal officials said Friday.
Trace amounts of anthrax spores have been found in the offices of Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.
It was reported on Saturday that trace amounts of anthrax had been found in the Hart building offices of Sens. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican; Bob Graham, Florida Democrat; and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.
Spores were also found in the offices of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, in the Longworth House Office Building.
The finding of more and more small traces of anthrax is a result of a decision made last week, when officials abandoned a plan to pump chlorine-dioxide fog into the entire Hart building to kill off the last little bits of anthrax. The plan was scrapped for fear computers and artwork would be damaged without killing every last spore.
"After we decided not to use the chlorine dioxide, we began an aggressive environmental-sampling program to pin down exactly where the anthrax is in the building," said Lt. Dan Nichols of the U.S. Capitol Police. "The current findings are the result of that initiative."
Private firms contracted by the government to test buildings for contamination face an arduous task. They must go into every nook and cranny with an elongated swab and take samples. The nooks and crannies must be charted, so that if a swab tests positive, the authorities will be able to locate the spores again.
Medical experts say that despite the relative insignificance of anthrax spores, extensive testing after a known bioterrorist attack is the best policy.
"A dangerous dose of anthrax depends on the person," said Dr. Kenneth J. Dillon of Spectrum Bioscience Inc., a disease-research firm in the District. "The same dose for me might be a problem for you."
If it takes 8,000 spores to give someone inhalation anthrax and there are three spores on your desk, "you're probably pretty safe," Dr. Dillon said. "But the 8,000 number is an average, which means some people would be killed by a lot less."
Anthrax is commonly found where people raise livestock. Animals get anthrax by grazing on soils naturally contaminated with the bacteria.
If the level of testing going on in the Hart building were done on random buildings west of Chicago where there are more livestock trace levels of anthrax might be found, Miss Kay said.
Historically, humans have contracted anthrax through an open sore or skin scratch while touching infected animals or animal products, such as wool, hides, leather, or hair products especially goat hair. About 20 percent of untreated skin infections result in death, health officials say.
The largest recent epidemic of human anthrax was in Zimbabwe between 1978 and 1980, when 9,445 cases occurred. The CDC reports that 95 percent of those cases were cutaneous, and 141 ended in death.
In 1979 in Sverdlovsk, Russia, clouds of wind-blown anthrax spores escaped from a military base and killed 16 persons, all of whom died of inhalation anthrax, the most fatal means of contracting the disease.
Such cases are rare In the United States. According to medical journals, only 18 inhalation cases were reported during the entire 20th century.
The conditions of three Washington-area men hospitalized last month with inhalation anthrax have continued to improve, D.C. health officials said.
Two of the men an unidentified postal worker from Brentwood and a State Department mailroom worker from a facility in Sterling, Va. went home from the hospital Thursday. A second Brentwood postal worker, Leroy Richmond, has also gone home, a spokeswoman at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church said.


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