- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

An employee at the State Department's remote mail facility in suburban Virginia is hospitalized with anthrax, a spokesman announced today, the latest jolting evidence of a spreading campaign of bioterrorism against the United States.

Spokesman Richard Boucher said the unidentified mail handler works at a facility in Sterling, Va., and went to the hospital yesterday with flu-like symptoms.

“He tested positive for the disease,'' said the spokesman.

The diagnosis marked the 13th known case of anthrax nationwide in the last few weeks most of them with known connections to the mail.

Boucher made his statement as Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told reporters the anthrax contained in a letter mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was highly concentrated and pure and made “to be more easily absorbed'' by its victims.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Ridge also announced the Postal Service had begun environmental testing at 200 facilities along the Eastern Seaboard, supplemented by precautionary spot checks elsewhere around the country.

Mr. Ridge spoke as officials said the number of Americans taking antibiotics at the government's urging in the bioterrorism scare had reached 10,000, and as Daschle announced that one wing of a Senate office building would be sealed off “for the foreseeable future'' because of anthrax contamination.

Health officials awaited the results of lab tests on an unidentified woman in a suburban Washington hospital, disclosed last night to be suffering from possible inhalation anthrax. The woman was present in the office building that houses Mr. Daschle's office on the day the tainted mail was opened.

Mr. Ridge said additional testing had confirmed that the anthrax bacteria found in letters to Mr. Daschle, New York and Florida were from the same strain, and had not been altered genetically.

That's good news, he said, “because it means the samples all respond to antibiotics and therefore people who are exposed can be treated.''

At the same time, he said the material that fell from the Daschle letter has different characteristics than the other samples.

“It is highly concentrated. It is pure and the spores are smaller,'' he said. “Therefore they're more dangerous because they can be more easily absorbed in a person's respiratory system.

Mr. Ridge also made his disclosures about postal service inspections as authorities prepared to issue masks and gloves for its 800,000 employees and was testing ways to sterilize the nation's mail.

House Democrats today introduced a $7 billion bioterrorism bill, calling for millions to be spent on increased public health surveillance efforts and to boost a national stockpile of vaccines and antibiotics. The measure also would provide money to protect food and water supplies, improve mail technology and tighten law enforcement at the nation's borders.

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a surgeon, said today that the nation's food supply may be the next target of terrorists.

“What bothers me is these terrorists are trying to take down our infrastructure one by one,'' he said on NBC's “Today'' show. “First it was the World Trade Center and airplanes where our transportation system was paralyzed for a while. Second they've been using biological weapons to try to take down our postal system. And if you look ahead, we know that food has been used successfully in the past.''

Frist noted only about 1 percent of food imports are inspected and that the roughly 1,000 federal food inspectors are responsible for 53,000 sites. “It is clear that we need to do more in terms of prevention and preparedness,'' he said.

Since the anthrax-by-mail crisis began, there have been six cases of inhaled anthrax, the most serious form of the disease. Two postal workers in Washington and a tabloid photo editor in Florida have died.

There are 15 patients in the Washington area with symptoms suggestive of anthrax and all may be linked to a letter sent to Mr. Daschle and handled in mail facilities from Trenton, N.J., to Capitol Hill. However, investigators have not ruled out the possibility there was other anthrax-tainted mail that has not been found.

Officials said late yesterday that a female employee of an “electronic news organization'' in Washington also was being treated for possible inhalation anthrax. The woman was outside Mr. Daschle's office the day the letter arrived, said Mike Hall, spokesman for Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., where she is being treated.

If confirmed to be inhalation anthrax, she would be the first person to contract the disease inside the Capitol complex.

Dr. John Eisold, the Capitol physician, said today that testing on the woman has not been completed, but “I have good reason to believe that this person will turn out to be fine.''

Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols described anthrax found outside an elevator on the first floor of the Hart Senate building as “not a significant amount'' and said investigators still were trying to determine how it got there. Eisold emphasized no new cases of anthrax exposure related to the finding had been reported, but encouraged anyone who has been in the area to get tested. “You can't be too cautious,'' he said.

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