- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

Traces of anthrax found this weekend at the veterans' hospital in the District went undetected for two weeks while mail was being delivered to 250 ailing military veterans, a hospital spokesman said yesterday.
The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) on Saturday confirmed the presence of anthrax spores in the mailroom of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center at 50 Irving St. NW, VA spokesman Phil Budahn said.
The medical center got mail from the Brentwood processing center until the center closed Oct. 23, after an anthrax-laced letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was processed there, contaminating the air and killing two postal workers with inhalation anthrax.
Mr. Budahn said the VA's mailroom didn't stop distributing mail to patients until Oct. 31, so letters that arrived before Brentwood shut down got distributed to patients as normal.
"If Brentwood was the source, the mail has been distributed through the hospital and that actually causes optimism," he said. "If we are going to have problems from Brentwood mail, it's reasonable to expect that it would have already happened."
Security was tight at the VA yesterday, as it has been since the September 11 attacks, according to an officer guarding the front entrance. Two reporters from The Washington Times were ordered off the property because of "a patient-privacy issue," said hospital spokeswoman Karen Fedele.
Visitors arriving to spend time with ailing friends or family members talked freely, however. They had heard anthrax had been found in the building and were worried.
"You certainly know that everything's a little uneasy today with everything that's going on," said one man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Standing in the parking lot with his father, the man said he was visiting his sick brother a two-tour veteran of the Vietnam War who traveled from Pennsylvania for treatment at the VA and is scheduled to undergo surgery today.
"Are we concerned? Yes, we are. But we're doing what we have to do," the man said. "We really are here with concerns for my brother, who has a heart condition."
"We put our faith in God," the man's father said.
Anthrax spores were discovered in the VA hospital's mailroom by a private scientific test after the CDC recommended that any large operations in the Washington area that received mail from Brentwood put their mailroom employees on preventative antibiotics.
"On the 25th of October, we started putting mailroom employees on antibiotics," Mr. Budahn said. "On the 31st, using our own resources, on our own initiative, we took 22 swabs from the mailroom. We also closed the mailroom on that day."
Nineteen swabs came up negative, but three were suspicious, possibly containing anthrax. The VA alerted the CDC, which, after further testing, determined one of the swabs had spores on it.
"On Saturday we received word," Mr. Budahn said. "We have had no one test positive and no one has showed up sick. We also did an airflow test and found that air in the mailroom vents outside the building, without recirculating through the hospital."
Mr. Budahn said CDC officials were at the VA hospital yesterday, but it was not clear whether they are going to test the entire building for anthrax.
Medical experts have not ruled out the possibility that spillover from the Daschle letter postmarked Oct. 9 has been the cause of trace amounts of anthrax turning up in mailrooms across the region.
Four mailrooms at the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, which also receives mail processed at Brentwood, joined the swelling list of contaminated sites last week.
Traces of the bacteria also were found at several sites inside State Department headquarters last Monday, five days after a department mailroom employee who works at an off-site mail facility in Sterling, Va., fell ill with inhalation anthrax.
Health officials yesterday prepared to sterilize the Senate Hart Office Building with chlorine dioxide gas to kill any lingering anthrax spores along with rats, mice and cockroaches without harming papers, files and artwork.
Anthrax hot spots were found on flour floors of the nine-story building after the Daschle letter was opened there.
Spores also were found in the mailroom of the Cohen Building of the Department of Health and Human Services in downtown Washington. The building houses offices of the Food and Drug Administration and Voice of America radio.
Meanwhile, in the Glen Echo area of Bethesda, a plastic bag of white powder found Saturday on the dashboard of an unlocked car tested negative for anthrax, FBI spokesman Peter Gulotta said yesterday.
Initial field tests on the substance found in the 5100 block of Scarsdale Road registered positive for anthrax, but the far more accurate lab tests were all negative, Mr. Gulotta said.
In New York yesterday, traces of anthrax were found on a package containing a videotape sent from the NBC office of Tom Brokaw to the mayor's office.
Since the anthrax crisis began last month, 10 Americans have developed inhaled anthrax, four of whom have died since Oct. 5. The four are: Bob Stevens, 63, of American Media in Boa Raton, Fla; Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55, and Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, who worked at the Brentwood mail center in the District; and Kathy T. Nguyen, 61, of New York City.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the source of the spores that last week caused the death of Mrs. Nguyen, a hospital worker, is still unknown.
Investigators have not been able to link Mrs. Nguyen's infection to the Postal Service or to mail-handling. Early anthrax tests at her Bronx apartment and at the hospital where she worked were negative.
Dr. Fauci said that the lack of a known postal connection suggests Mrs. Nguyen may have gotten the disease in a different way, and possibly hers is a "sentinel case in a new and evolving pattern."
Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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