- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2001

A D.C. express mail handler at the Brentwood post office in Northeast was declared the nation's third confirmed case of inhaled anthrax yesterday, the most serious form of the disease.
Meanwhile, city health officials began testing more than 2,000 of his co-workers at the Brentwood post office and the airmail center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where the man worked three days a week.
The Stafford County man, whose name has not been released, is being treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital, where doctors discount reports the man is gravely ill, saying his condition is serious but stable. A visitor said he spent part of yesterday watching the Washington Redskins play.
The man handles mail and packages that go directly to Capitol Hill. Officials say an anthrax-laced letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was processed there.
House leaders decided to adjourn last week after the presence of anthrax was detected, to allow for a thorough check of House buildings a move that brought a barrage of criticism as the Senate stayed in session.
"Now they appear to be vindicated with that decision," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said on ABC's "This Week."
Federal officials said they hoped to open the U.S. Capitol in time for the House and Senate to convene tomorrow. But one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said House leaders were looking at Fort McNair, a military installation near the Capitol, as an alternative location.
The U.S. Postal Service has temporarily shut down both mailing centers so health inspectors can test both locations. But mail is expected to be delivered as usual from other mail centers.
The stricken employee checked himself into the hospital on Friday after suffering from a fever and chest pains for several days last week, officials said. Last night, doctors said they expected the man to make a full recovery.
"He was watching the game and he was hoping [the Redskins] will pull through," said Deborah K. Willhite, senior vice president for government relations and public policy for the U.S. Postal Service.
Doctors said the man is taking the antibiotic Cipro and clindamycin, a drug often used to treat strep throat.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and city health officials yesterday ordered the postal employee's co-workers to undergo nasal swab testing and provide each of them with a 10-day supply of Cipro. Those who test positive for exposure will be asked to return for more testing and receive additional supplies of antibiotics.
Testing began yesterday afternoon at 441 Fourth St. in Northwest and was to resume today at 9 a.m. at D.C. General Hospital at 1900 Massachusetts Ave.
"We are going to do everything we can to help these people," Mr. Williams said yesterday at a news conference held on the sidewalk near the Judiciary Square Metro station. "We'll see to it that these people are getting the treatment they need. We will return to a normal way of life and repudiate what these terrorists have done."
City officials say they don't believe patrons of the two mail centers need testing. "We do not think at this time that the general public needs to be tested," said Ivan Walks, the city's chief health officer.
The postal worker was the ninth person to be diagnosed with anthrax since a Florida man died early this month. Six of the victims have been exposed through the skin, a less serious form of the disease.
Postal Service officials said yesterday mail delivery will not be interrupted because of the closings. "We don't know how long this will last," Ms. Willhite said. "We will keep these facilities closed as long as it takes to do the tests and sanitize the facilities, to make sure there are no spores found."
Ms. Willhite said the postal service hired independent contractors to test the Brentwood post office for anthrax after the Daschle letter was discovered. But she said preliminary tests so far show no further signs of anthrax spores.
City officials said they didn't know if the postal worker handled the letter that was sent to Mr. Daschle, or whether he handled other tainted letters that had yet to be found.
Dr. Rima F. Khabbaz, deputy director of viral diseases with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she couldn't explain yesterday how a postal worker could contract inhaled anthrax, since it must be sniffed at close range.
"I don't have a good answer for that," Dr. Khabbaz said. "But clearly he was exposed to anthrax somehow. And we are hopeful that the antibiotics will work."
As officials continued their investigation into the latest case, dozens of postal service employees yesterday began trickling into the 441 Fourth St. building lobby for testing.
Most of those who stopped by said they wouldn't let the latest incident get in the way of their daily routines.
"You can't let things like this ruin our lives," said Lydia Hembry, a mail handler from Hyattsville who works at the Brentwood facility. Since the Daschle letter, postal employees have been ordered to wear face masks and rubber gloves when handling mail, she said.
Deborah Potter, a mail handler from Oxon Hill who also works at the Brentwood facility, said she will take the necessary steps to keep her and her family safe. "I can't be scared," she said. "Everybody has to work for a living. This is upsetting, sure, but what can I do. I have a family to take care of."
John Watkins, also a mail handler at Brentwood, agreed. "If I test negative, that's great," said Mr. Watkins, of Waldorf.
"If I test positive, I hope I get the proper medication to treat it. If all else fails, oh well."
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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