- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Health officials yesterday handed out plastic bags of 20 white pills to thousands of D.C. postal workers, who were surprised to be treated and not tested for exposure to anthrax.
"This is like taking chemotherapy and you haven't even been diagnosed with cancer yet," one postal worker said as he was given his 10-day supply of the antibiotic Cipro at D.C. General Hospital.
D.C. officials have directed all 2,000 employees at the city's 36 neighborhood post offices to be treated for exposure to anthrax, along with 3,000 postal workers and visitors to the central mail processing center on Brentwood Road NE. Anthrax spores have been found in several areas at the Brentwood facility, where two postal employees who died of inhalation anthrax worked. It was declared a crime scene yesterday.
Valarerie Gleaton, who has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 23 years and is a member of the D.C. chapter of the American Postal Worker's Union, said she went to D.C. General yesterday fully expecting to get tested for exposure to anthrax.
"The other people [members of Congress and their staff] got swabbed and tested, now they tell us we're not getting swabbed," she said. "How do you make a determination whether or not you have anthrax?"
The same was asked by hundreds of other postal workers yesterday after the D.C. health department instructed them and anyone who has visited the work areas at facilities served by Brentwood between Oct. 12 and 22 to report to D.C. General for treatment.
The postal employees were ushered into the hospital, where uniformed officials from the U.S. Public Health Service broke the news that there would be no testing for exposure to anthrax, only the distribution of Cipro pills, which are to be taken twice daily for 10 days. Ciprofloxacin is an antibiotic that doctors say is the most effective treatment for anthrax.
Many postal workers became frustrated. "All I know is that they gave me pills, and that's it," said Doris Harris, a mail carrier from Northwest. "This is not adequate. I feel they should have tested all of us the same way they did for the people in Congress."
Health officials told the postal workers that tests only were given to employees of the Brentwood facility on Monday to define "hot spots."
"The test is arbitrary. If you're positive for anthrax, you're getting Cipro. If you're negative, you're also getting Cipro," said one doctor. "Everyone who works in or has visited one of the hot spots is getting Cipro."
"We need to treat, and to treat quickly," said Dr. Ivan C.A. Walks, the District's senior health official.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams responded to criticism during a press conference last night outside D.C. General Hospital before going in for treatment himself.
"If we knew then what we know now, we would have acted earlier," said Mr. Williams, who visited postal employees at work last week. "But we didn't know then what we know now."
Before distributing plastic bags of the pills, health officials briefed the postal workers about the drug's side effects, which can include "a rash or hives; swelling of the face, throat or lips; shortness of breath or trouble breathing; seizures; or severe diarrhea," according to literature circulated at D.C. General yesterday.
Many receiving pills had questions that went unanswered. "How come we're only getting a 10-day supply of this stuff and some people are getting a 60-day supply?" asked an angry worker.
"It's like [nobody] cares about the front-line employees," said Miss Harris, who has worked for the post office for 15 years.
"It's almost like we're expendable," said another mail carrier who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Others who received Cipro yesterday included more than a dozen members of the media who had visited work areas at Brentwood or other local post offices in recent weeks.
Carolyn Docimascolo, a news producer for Fox-TV, went to D.C. General at the request of her boss because she worked on a news story at the Brentwood facility during late September.
"This is strange to me because I hear all these conflicting reports, like if you take Cipro now as a preventative measure, next time it might not be effective," she said. "That worries me."
Miss Docimascolo thought she was going to be tested for exposure to anthrax yesterday and was confused when she only was given pills. "I think this got people more fired up than helped them," she said. "I'd feel more comfortable if at least they had tested me. Imagine how these people who work at the post office everyday feel. It's their job."

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