Friday, November 16, 2001

With no new anthrax cases reported in recent weeks, the threat that began in early October has largely subsided, the District’s top health official said yesterday.

“Clearly, we’re on the downside of this incident,” said D.C. Health Department Director Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks.

Dr. Walks’ comments came the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommended a two-month preventive drug regimen for anyone who visited or worked at a State Department mail facility in Sterling, Va., between Oct. 12 and Oct. 22.

The CDC published a list of specific groups who should be taking the antibiotics Cipro or doxycycline because they may have been exposed to anthrax spores.

In addition to those who visited the Sterling facility, where an employee contracted inhalation anthrax, other groups urged to continue taking the drugs include:

• People who were on the fifth and sixth floors of the southeast wing of the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 15, when an anthrax-filled letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was opened there.

• Employees and visitors to the back rooms of the District’s Brentwood mail-processing facility between Oct. 12 and Oct. 21, when the Daschle letter passed through there.

The CDC said about 32,000 people have taken the antibiotics as a precaution since the anthrax scare began. Doctors advised most people to stop taking the drugs after investigators determined they were not at risk for exposure.

Two workers at Brentwood died of inhalation anthrax Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, and two others who contracted it there have recovered, returning from the hospital last weekend. The State Department employee who got inhalation anthrax in Sterling also has gone home from the hospital.

Dr. Walks said no new inhalation or cutaneous anthrax cases for several weeks indicates the threat has subsided considerably.

“We are, however, going to continue finding traces of anthrax as facilities continue to be tested,” he said. “We still don’t know who put anthrax in the mail. We don’t know if they have more anthrax, and the post office has not fully solved the problem of sanitizing mail.”

Postal Service officials yesterday were less willing to say the anthrax scare was subsiding. There are still about 8,000 postal employees on a 60-day supply of antibiotics, and the Postal Service is being very careful about ensuring that mail is safe, spokesman Jerry Kreienkamp said.

Postal Service spokeswoman Deborah Yackley said mail stuck in Brentwood since it closed more than three weeks ago is still being shipped to Titan Scan Technologies in Lima, Ohio, for decontamination.

The Postal Service has awarded contracts totaling more than $42 million to Titan and Ion Beam Applications Inc. of Chicago to provide electron-beam and X-ray technology to sanitize mail.

Miss Yackley said much of the mail sent to Titan was coming back to the District, being checked and “any day now” will be sorted and distributed.

“There’s some examination of the mail that still has to occur,” she said. “We want to make sure that it is all totally decontaminated before it is delivered.”

Meanwhile, the main post office in Salisbury, Md., was tested for anthrax yesterday, one of more than 270 postal facilities nationwide still being tested for anthrax spores.

Workers at the post office on Route 50 last week told Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, Maryland Republican, they’re worried because the center handled mail from Brentwood.

Mr. Gilchrest visited the post office and an Easton, Md., mail-processing center last week. The Easton facility will be tested today.

“We urged postal officials to put Salisbury and Easton on the list of facilities to be tested,” Mr. Gilchrest said in a statement. “Workers at these facilities are justifiably concerned… . By checking these facilities, I hope we can allay a lot of those fears.”

The two facilities, which employ more than 300 workers, process all of the mail for Maryland’s Eastern Shore and both remained open for business during the testing. Results are expected back next week.

Also yesterday, health officials in West Palm Beach, Fla., said they suspect a tabloid publisher received more than one anthrax-tainted letter last month.

Anthrax has been found throughout the headquarters of American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., investigators said, and it is unlikely just one letter spread spores to all three floors of the 68,000-square-foot building.

The nation’s anthrax scare began in Boca Raton on Oct. 5, when a photo editor at one of American Media’s tabloids died of the disease.

• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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