- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

Four federal mailrooms in Maryland yesterday tested positive for anthrax exposure, as D.C. health officials advised most city postal workers to stop taking antibiotics for the disease.
Four of the five mailrooms at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) headquarters in Rockville tested positive for traces of anthrax spores, giving investigators further proof that cross-contamination could be to blame for the spread of the deadly bacteria across the Washington area.
Officials from the U.S. Postal Service and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said they had no leading theory on how anthrax spread to the FDA mailrooms.
The Brentwood Mail and Processing Distribution Facility in Northeast, where two postal workers who died of inhalation anthrax worked, has been the only known source of the airborne anthrax outbreaks in the area.
Authorities have speculated that many letters may have been contaminated at Brentwood sometime last month, when an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was processed there.
"We have not DNA-fingerprinted the strands of anthrax so far," said Dr. Patrick Meehan, a CDC spokesman. "We do not yet know if they are the same exact form of anthrax from the same letter."
Dr. Meehan said it has not been determined whether any of the 11 Washington-area facilities that tested positive for anthrax exposure this week were contaminated by spillover from the Daschle letter or from other letters that have yet to be discovered.
Some FDA mail is processed at Brentwood, including government mail lacking a specific street address or addressed just Washington, D.C. FDA mail bearing a street address is processed through the suburban Maryland facility in Gaithersburg, which has tested negative.
In addition, D.C. officials announced that most D.C. postal workers should stop taking antibiotics.
Only those postal workers who work at the five post offices where anthrax spores were found should continue taking the preventive medicine, they said.
Those include persons who work in the back areas of Brentwood, the State Department mail annex in Sterling, Va., the L Street Post Office in Southwest, the Friendship Station in Northwest and the post office near Washington Dulles International Airport.
Despite the discovery of the bacteria at the FDA mailrooms, city officials said they believe the area has weathered the worst of the bioterrorism.
"We are in a different day," said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, the District's chief health official.
White House officials yesterday said President Bush is confident that the bioterrorists behind the anthrax scare will be caught.
"The president has a lot of faith in the investigators he is confident that their work will end in capturing the people or the person who is responsible for this," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he and other mayors are frustrated that no culprit has been found. But "I'm mindful, that this is going to be a long war on terrorism," he said.
Meanwhile, New Jersey acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco asked the federal government for more help in the battle against anthrax, saying every post office in the state should be tested for the disease.
"It appears that New Jersey, for all intents and purposes, is the front line in the anthrax attack on our nation," Mr. DiFrancesco said in a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
The latest news in the District came after investigators announced they had found a link between the death of a New York hospital worker and 18 other cases of anthrax infections that have occurred along the East Coast.
Authorities said the anthrax that killed Kathy T. Nguyen, 61, on Wednesday was the same as that sent in letters to Mr. Daschle, the New York Post and NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw last month.
"All of them have been basically indistinguishable from each other," said Dr. Steven Ostroff of the CDC in Atlanta.
The latest development hasn't brought investigators any closer to learning how Mrs. Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant, contracted inhalation anthrax.
"We have yet to detect the clues that would identify the source of her infection," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, deputy CDC director. "There are no clues to suggest that mail or the mail handling was the cause of her exposure."
Tests on Mrs. Nguyen's apartment and workplace the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital found no traces of anthrax spores. An initial positive finding from a bag of clothing she was wearing when she checked into the hospital has since shown to be negative, said New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Dr. Gerberding said the investigation suggests Mrs. Nguyen was not exposed in a public place because there have been no additional reports of illness.
None of her co-workers have shown signs of infection, Mr. Giuliani said.
Investigators are re-examining the postal routes that were used to deliver mail to her.
According to officials, the three known contaminated letters sent to Washington and New York were first processed at the Hamilton Township Processing and Distribution Center in New Jersey, where spores have been found. The letters were then sent to the Carteret Main Transfer Facility, also in New Jersey, where they were forklifted into mail trucks and taken to their respective destinations.
From Carteret, Mr. Daschle's letter went to the Brentwood post office before going on to Capitol Hill.
The other two letters went to the Morgan Processing and Distribution Station in Manhattan, where traces of anthrax have been found on four high-speed, mail-sorting machines.
Also yesterday, anthrax spores were found at a Kansas City postal center the farthest west the bacteria has been found in the last month.
The Stamp Fulfillment Services Center the country's clearinghouse for the first-day cancellations prized by many stamp collectors had been shut down after spores were found in a trash bag where envelopes were thrown out. More than 170 of the center's 200 employees have begun taking antibiotics as a precaution.
Authorities believe the anthrax came there Oct. 19 in a shipment of 7,000 pieces of mail from Brentwood.
So far, there are 19 confirmed cases of anthrax infections nationwide.
Four persons have died of inhalation anthrax since the outbreak began Oct. 5.
Four others in Virginia and New Jersey three postal workers and one State Department employee remain hospitalized in serious condition with the same form of the disease.
Two others a Florida tabloid mailroom worker and a New Jersey postal worker who have inhalation anthrax were released from a hospital last week.
Nine persons have skin anthrax, the less severe form of the disease.
As investigators searched for clues into the anthrax cases, authorities continued to test 230 postal facilities for spores throughout the country.
Postal Service official Azeezaly Jaffer said those facilities are being tested "as a precautionary measure."
Mr. Jaffer said test results show traces of anthrax spores had been found in eight of 64 facilities nationwide.
Those facilities are in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and the District.
Margie Hyslop and Jerry Seper contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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