- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

Health officials are investigating the mysterious anthrax death of a hospital stockroom worker in New York, even while America's heartland, hitherto untouched by the sickening scourge of anthrax, appears to have been targeted, if by nothing more than contaminants from already exposed facilities.

Anthrax spores have been found at postal facilities in both Indianapolis and Kansas City. Those found in Indianapolis appear to have come from contaminated equipment sent from an anthrax-affected mail-processing center in Trenton, New Jersey. The Kansas City exposures may well have resulted from a shipment of contaminated mail that was sent from the Brentwood facility in Washington. While no one has yet gotten sick from the anthrax spores, over 200 postal workers at the Kansas City facility have been put on antibiotics as a precautionary measure. Ditto for Indianapolis, where the facility has been closed and its employees have been advised on receiving treatment.

Pallatative measures were taken for Kathy Nguyen, but they did not come in time to prevent her from dying from pulmonary anthrax. Her case is especially troubling (Sen. Bill Frist said that no other anthrax case alarmed him so) since she was connected to neither the post office nor the media. Investigators are attempting to recreate her last days to discover how she might have come down with this still exceedingly rare form of anthrax. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher claimed, "We need to find out how she was infected … . It's very strange."

It's also strange that, according to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana state officials were never notified by the post office of the potential for exposure. Indiana Health Commissioner Greg Wilson complained, "They've [postal officials] known since last week that it was possible that the machine was exposed, and that it was in Indiana."

Aside from this failure by the Postal Service, it is encouraging that government and public health officials are finally climbing the steep learning curve on properly responding to bioterrorism.

The measures taken in Indianapolis and Kansas City should be effective in containing the anthrax exposures, and the Centers for Disease Control is now giving the postal service recommendations on controlling and containing anthrax contamination. Even those appear to be coming with the proper caveats. The CDC's Dr. Julie Gerberding claimed, "We know that these steps are not going to eliminate the risk entirely, but they will certainly reduce the risk and ensure the safest possible mail service."

That opinion was also expressed by New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani regarding the case of Ms. Nguyen. The mayor told the press, "No one can assure anyone that we're all perfectly safe. All I can do is give you the facts."

Coupled with clear thinking and quick preventative measures, that attitude may well continue to be America's best defense against bioterrorism.

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