- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

Anthrax spores detected yesterday in the office mailbox of a New Jersey woman diagnosed with the skin form of the disease suggests she was exposed through the mail, federal health officials said.
The case of the 51-year-old accountant in the Kuser Road Office Building, near Trenton, N.J., has puzzled investigators because she had no apparent connection to the mail other than opening and reading it as anyone would, Health and Human Services spokesman Tommy G. Thompson said.
Finding the spores in the mailbox is a "good sign," Mr. Thompson said, because it suggests the woman, who has not been identified, contracted the highly curable form of anthrax through her mail.
"We have not conclusively ruled that's where she got it from, but it's a good indication," he said.
In the Washington area yesterday, FBI agents investigated a suspicious powder found inside a car in the Glen Echo area of Bethesda.
Initial tests of the powder done by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention were inconclusive, said FBI spokesman Peter Gulotta. One test provided a presumptive positive result, another came back negative.
Investigators took no chances as they sealed the vehicle in a container and towed it off for more testing. It may be two days before results of the testing are available. The FBI is warning against panic because the number of hoaxes has risen in recent days.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement agents nationwide have made little headway investigating the anthrax scare that has rattled the nation since Oct. 4. They could not say yesterday whether the pathogenic plot originated on U.S. soil or abroad.
"We are pursuing more than 1,000 leads, including more than 100 that have taken us overseas," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a White House news conference yesterday. "We have conducted more than 2,000 interviews to date in that investigation."
The probe is focused on Trenton, where three anthrax-tainted letters were mailed that eventually ended up at Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office in Washington and the New York offices of NBC and the New York Post.
"Nothing yet has been ruled out and we continue to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," Mr. Mueller said.
The two letters sent to the New York media organizations were postmarked Sept. 18 while the one sent to Mr. Daschle was postmarked Oct. 9. The New York-bound letters held a brown, granular substance, and the letter sent to Mr. Daschle had fine white powder apparently containing purely sifted anthrax spores.
Medials specialists say the different substances may explain why confirmed anthrax cases related to the New York letters have been mostly of the skin variety, while the cases related to the Daschle letter in have been of the inhalation variety, as the powder more easily floats through the air.
"We're investigating who would be capable of developing that anthrax strain," Mr. Mueller said. "We're not tilting more toward a domestic source."
Mr. Mueller and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge called on the American people to help by keeping an eye out for suspicious mail, especially if it contains handwriting similar to that on contaminated letters sent to New York and Mr. Daschle. They asked that suspicious activity be reported to the FBI at www.ifccfbi.gov on the Web.
So far, there are 17 confirmed cases of anthrax infections nationwide. Nine persons have skin anthrax and 10 have contracted inhalation anthrax, four of whom have died since Oct. 5.
Officials investigating the death of Kathy T. Nguyen a 61-year-old hospital worker in Manhattan, N.Y., have confirmed the strain of the bacteria that killed her was indistinguishable from that mailed to Mr. Daschle and media companies in Florida and New York.
Environmental tests continued yesterday in more than 250 postal facilities nationwide. "This was a targeted attack and we're responding in a targeted manner," said U.S. Postal Service spokesman Azeezaly S. Jaffer.
On Thursday, four Food and Drug Administration mailrooms in Rockville joined the swelling list of infected sites, and in Florida, a sixth post office tested positive. Also Thursday anthrax turned up at a Kansas City, Mo., postal center the farthest west the bacteria have been found.
Authorities believe the anthrax came there Oct. 19 in a shipment of 7,000 pieces of mail from the Brentwood mail-processing facility in Washington, where two employees have died.
This article based in part on wire service reports.


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