- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

Officials are investigating at least 11 new cases of possible anthrax infection among Brentwood postal workers in the Washington, D.C. area.
The new cases bring to 35 the number of suspected anthrax exposures in the Washington area, where 13 persons are hospitalized suffering from anthraxlike symptoms, and 20 others are ill and on antibiotic treatments. The total also includes two Brentwood postal workers who died earlier this week.
Nationwide, there has been one other fatality the death of a tabloid photo editor in Florida and a handful of cases of exposure among journalists and postal workers in Florida, New York and New Jersey.
Thousands of postal workers, media employees and others concerned about possible exposure to the bacteria have been given Cipro, the anthrax antidote, in an attempt by officials to ease concerns about the government's response to the bioterrorism attacks.
In Washington, more than 5,000 free bags containing a 10-day supply of the drug have been dispensed this week.
The jump in the number of ill people in the District on Tuesday, there were 20 cases prompted officials to bring in 50 more doctors and other consultants from Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing the total number of CDC investigators in the city to 100.
D.C. officials said yesterday that they are optimistic the postal workers hospitalized in the District, Maryland and Virginia will make a full recovery, like the Florida mailroom worker infected with inhalation anthrax while working at a tabloid publishing company. That tabloid employee, 73-year-old Ernesto Blanco, was released from the hospital yesterday.
D.C. officials were waiting on blood test results from seven Brentwood postal employees who are now hospitalized with anthraxlike symptoms in Maryland. Two other Brentwood postal workers infected with inhalation anthrax remained hospitalized in Virginia in serious condition last night.
A reporter who works in the Senate's Hart Office Building also has been hospitalized with suspicious flu-like symptoms and is being treated for possible exposure.
The reporter, identified by hospital officials only as a woman who works for an electronic news organization, was hospitalized because the Hart building is a "hot zone," where anthrax spores were found, hospital officials said last night.
The Hart building holds the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, where an anthrax-laced letter was received Oct. 14. The building remained closed yesterday as anthrax was discovered in a first-floor freight elevator in the building's southwest quadrant.
Wary workers were allowed back into the Russell Senate Office Building across the street from the Capitol yesterday morning. The building houses the offices of 36 of the Senate's 100 members. Congress' other office buildings remained closed.
"A couple of weeks ago, we thought anthrax was a death sentence," said Dr. Ivan Walks, the District's chief health officer. "We have since found that it isn't despite the fact that several people have died because of it."
Fears about anthrax exposure have also spread to the nation's heartland.
Six postal workers in Norman, Okla., began taking preventive antibiotics after they were transferred from the Washington area. Officials in Topeka, Kan., shut down a postal service repair facility there and ordered employees to seek treatment because the facility received several machines from East Coast mail centers, including the contaminated Brentwood facility.
Brentwood, the District's central mail-processing facility, was shut down Sunday after two employees were diagnosed with inhalation anthrax. As a result, mail has been rerouted to other post offices in Maryland and Virginia.
Officials have said an anthrax-laced letter sent to Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, was processed there. The facility tested positive for anthrax spores earlier this week.
CDC officials said yesterday they are testing 35 of the District's 36 post offices that have received mail from Brentwood. Twenty-two were tested for traces of anthrax Tuesday, while the others were swept yesterday, said Patrick Meehan, a CDC spokesman. Test results are pending.
As of last night, there were 13 confirmed cases of inhalation anthrax nationwide, including the three fatalities.
Seven others have contracted the much less dangerous skin anthrax. Those include two postal workers in New Jersey, two employees at the New York Post, one employee at NBC, one at CBS and one at ABC.
Also, 28 Capitol Hill employees have tested positive for exposure to anthrax, 21 of whom work for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
The disclosure of the latest possible cases in the District comes after postal officials announced they could not guarantee that other anthrax-laced mail intended for elected officials on Capitol Hill would not travel through the redirected routes and facilities. Officials were proceeding with caution and tried to downplay concerns.
"It's like poison, everything associated with this place [Brentwood], and that's not the case," said Deborah Yackley, a Postal Service spokeswoman. "People throughout the area have been getting mail, and it's been totally normal."
Postmaster General John Potter conceded there are no foolproof guarantees to ensure that home mail is safe, but he urged Americans not to overreact to the risks, which he said are extremely small. Mr. Potter said the Postal Service has already adopted new safety procedures to keep postal employees safe.
Postal workers from as far as Baltimore are handling the mail that's been rerouted from Brentwood, where 2,000 workers are now being treated for possible exposure. The rerouting has caused some disruption in mail delivery.
President Bush said the anthrax poisonings amount to a counterattack by terrorists who are being pummeled by American bombs in Afghanistan.
"There is another front in this war, and the front is here at home," Mr. Bush told workers yesterday at Dixie Paper Co. in suburban Baltimore. "It's something that obviously we're not used to in America."
White House officials on Tuesday reported that a small amount of anthrax was found on an off-site mail machine where presidential mail is handled.
Preliminary tests of most employees and visitors to mail-handling facilities in and around the White House have turned up negative, said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer.
Also yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted testing at Washington Dulles International Airport, at the Merrifield post office in Fairfax and at an undisclosed mail facility in Landover, where the Justice Departments gets its mail. All three centers receive some mail from Brentwood.
More testing is planned for facilities in Capitol Heights, Gaithersburg, and Baltimore-Washington International Airport mail facilities.
News of anthrax prompted many in the Washington area to seek help at local hospitals. Several postal employees from Merrified visited Inova Fairfax Hospital Tuesday complaining of flulike symptoms, however doctors said they did not have anthrax.
Throughout the day, doctors worked around the clock to determine how many people with suspicious symptoms really have anthrax in addition to the 13 confirmed cases. All emergency rooms in the D.C. area were packed with people trying to get the antibiotic Cipro or to get tested for the germ, Dr. Walks said.
Dr. Walks warned that those people who are not postal workers should not take Cipro without getting a doctor's approval first. Dr. Walks said one Brentwood postal worker almost died of an allergic reaction to the antibiotic Tuesday. "We need to be cognizant that Cipro is not an aspirin pill," he said.
Bill Sammon, Jerry Seper, Guy Taylor, Brian DeBose and Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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