- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

NEW YORK An NBC News employee was infected with the skin form of anthrax after the network received mail containing a suspicious powder, authorities said today.

The anthrax is not the inhaled form of the disease, which killed a Florida man a week ago. The NBC employee has a less-serious skin infection and is expected to recover, the network said.

Barry Mawn, head of the FBI office in New York, said authorities “see no connection whatsoever'' to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. The FBI is checking to see if there is a link to the Florida case, but “preliminarily I do not see that,'' Mr. Mawn said.

The FBI has begun a criminal investigation to find the source of the anthrax in the New York case, Attorney General John Ashcroft said in Washington. A separate investigation is under way in Florida, he said.

Mr. Ashcroft said the letter to NBC postmarked Sept. 25 “may have transmitted the anthrax'' and was being investigated.

NBC said a test result confirming the infection at its Rockefeller Center headquarters came back this morning. The infected woman is an assistant to anchorman Tom Brokaw, network officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The skin and inhaled forms of anthrax are caused by the same bacterium. The only difference is whether the microscopic anthrax spores enter the skin through a cut or if there are enough anthrax spores to be inhaled and thus cause infection through the lungs. It takes inhaling more than 8,000 spores to cause the inhalation form of anthrax.

Neither form can be spread directly from person to person.

The first symptoms of skin or cutaneous anthrax are reddish-black sores on the exposed skin. If the disease is caught at that point and treated with antibiotics it is easily cured. Even without treatment, cutaneous anthrax is fatal in only one case out of four.

Officials advised people not to open or even shake any suspicious mail. Instead, they should leave it alone and contact authorities.

In Washington, President Bush said the case “has got to cause concern for our nation but I want everybody in the country to know we're responding rapidly.''

“Our nation is still in danger but the government is doing everything on our power to protect our citizenry,'' he said during a White House event celebrating Hispanic heritage.

“The American people need to go about their lives. We cannot let terrorists lock our country down,'' he said. “They will not take this country down.''

At a news conference in New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said tests would be done at the NBC offices. The third floor and one or two other parts of the 70-story GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Center were sealed off for federal health investigators. Those areas of the building were cleared of employees.

“Living in New York and working in this building for this company, you're already on edge,'' said Brian Rolapp, 29, business development manager for NBC who works on 25th floor. “But I think everyone is a little startled that it's this close to home. If it escalates we'll have more reasons to be worried.''

The infected woman has been treated with the antibiotic Cipro since Oct. 1, officials said.

Mr. Brokaw, who attended the hastily called news conference, rubbed his eyes, wiped his brow and did not speak except when asked if the woman was his secretary. “She an employee of `Nightly News,''' Mr. Brokaw replied.

The mayor said all employees exposed to the powder will be tested for anthrax and treated with Cipro.

“People should not overreact to this,'' Mr. Giuliani said. “Much of this is being done to allay people's fears.''

The mayor also said The New York Times had received a letter containing a powdery substance at its West 43rd Street headquarters near Times Square. He said the substance was being tested.

Times spokeswoman Kathy Park confirmed the unspecified threat at the office. “No one has been hurt or (is) under immediate danger,'' she said.

The newspaper's third-floor newsroom was emptied, with employees told to move elsewhere in the building. The street outside the Times' offices was closed.

The GE Building in midtown Manhattan, in addition to being the headquarters for NBC, is home to “Saturday Night Live'' and “Late Night With Conan O'Brien.'' Crowds milled around the front of the building and barricades were put up Friday, but no streets were closed.

The Associated Press, located across the street, temporarily closed its mailroom operations. CBS also said it has shut down its New York mailroom as a precaution and is not accepting any new mail. ABC said it halted all internal mail delivery in New York and Washington pending a security evaluation.

After receiving the mail last month, NBC said it immediately contacted the FBI, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York Department of Health.

“The mail was tested by these organizations, and the employee was treated by several physicians. All these tests came back negative,'' NBC said today. “However, this morning, a later test on the employee came back positive for traces of cutaneous anthrax.''

NBC's disclosure comes a week after a photo editor for The Sun supermarket tabloid in Boca Raton, Fla., died of the more serious inhaled form of anthrax. The American Media Inc. building where several supermarket tabloids are published was sealed off after anthrax was found on the keyboard of the editor, Bob Stevens, 63.

Traces of anthrax were later found in the mailroom where two other American Media workers worked, a law enforcement official said yesterday. Both tested positive for exposure to anthrax, but neither developed the disease. Both are taking antibiotics and one has returned to work.

Investigators searching for the source tested 15 clerks who worked in the South Florida post office that handled American Media's mail, a union official said.

National Enquirer editor Steve Coz said he thought the infection at his building was a bioterrorist attack.

“The working theory we have right now is that a letter came into American Media. It came into the mail room, it arrived on Bob Stevens' desk,'' Mr. Coz said today on ABC's “Good Morning America.''

“Somebody else opened that letter. Unfortunately for Bob Stevens, he was handed the letter and Bob Stevens is farsighted. He then brought the letter up to his eyes so he could see it. The theory is that that's when he got the inhalation of anthrax.''

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide