- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

The search for anthrax spores widened yesterday to include thousands of mailrooms in federal buildings and private businesses throughout the country as physicians came to Washington seeking answers about the dangers of the disease spreading to their communities.
The U.S. Postal Service expanded its testing for contamination to 14 postal facilities in Northern Virginia and Maryland and some 30 other mail-sorting distribution centers along the East Coast and as far west as Arizona. An additional 200 sites nationwide were expected to be picked for random testing for any traces of anthrax.
The Postal Service shut down a post office in Princeton, N.J., yesterday, the second one in that state, after preliminary tests proved positive for a single anthrax spore was found in a colony of several types of bacteria on a mail bin.
About 600 people who picked up mail and packages at the postal processing facility where anthrax was found should take antibiotics, New Jersey health officials said. The recommendation applies mainly to workers from several hundred firms who pick up or drop off mail at the facility.
A Trenton firefighter also was hospitalized yesterday for a possible case of inhalation anthrax.
Samples were taken Friday at the post office, and the FBI and federal health officials took more samples early yesterday, but further test results were not available, said Laura Otterbourg, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department.
In all, officials are testing at between 2,000 and 4,000 sites that receive mail from the Brentwood Road Mail Processing Facility in Northeast the District's main processing and distribution center where an anthrax-laced letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was processed earlier this month. Four postal workers became infected with inhalation anthrax, two of whom have died.
So far, the letter sent to Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, is the only one locally known to be laced with anthrax, but authorities feared yesterday there might be other such letters that have not yet been found.
"We don't know if we have cross-contamination from the original Senator Daschle letter or if there is another letter out there that we need to be concerned about," said Lt. Dan Nichols, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police.
About 68 tons of letters from the District were being trucked to a plant in Lima, Ohio, to be decontaminated with electron beams typically used to sterilize hospital equipment.
The Postal Service has signed a $40 million contract to buy eight electron-beam devices to sanitize mail. The equipment will be used first in Washington.
Another suspicious letter turned up in Florida yesterday, when a letter on its way to Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's office in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., started seeping white powder in the local post office. The letter, which was handwritten and had no return address, was sent to an FBI lab in Miami to be tested for anthrax.
Mr. Daschle said yesterday Americans should not allow the anthrax scare to interfere with their lives.
"We cannot be paralyzed by our anger or slowed by our sadness," Mr. Daschle said in the Democratic response to President Bush's weekly radio address. "We need to identify the weaknesses in our system of confronting bioterrorism so that we can protect our people."
There are 14 confirmed anthrax infections nationwide, including the two Brentwood employees and one State Department mailroom employee who have inhalation anthrax, the most serious form of the disease. Three local men are in serious condition at local hospitals.
Three persons a Florida photo editor and the two other Brentwood employees have died. Joseph Curseen Jr., of Clinton, Md., was buried yesterday.
A total of 23 Postal Service workers are hospitalized for "suspicious symptoms," but anthrax has not been confirmed, officials said yesterday.
Mailroom workers from some 300 federal agencies and 22 businesses that get their mail from the contaminated Brentwood facility began preventive treatment this weekend at different makeshift treatment centers in Northern Virginia and at D.C. General Hospital.
One of the treatment sites was at the Fairfax County Government Center in Fairfax County, where workers turned out to get screened and, if necessary, get treatment. By midafternoon, 42 persons were given medicine, said Kathy Simmons, a Fairfax County information officer.
Police and health experts continued to search for any further anthrax spores in congressional facilities and postal centers in the region. The Ford and Longworth House Office Buildings and the Hart Senate Office Building remained closed, as did the mailroom in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Hart-Dirksen garage was scheduled to reopen tomorrow.
Officials said yesterday anthrax spores found in three congressional offices in Longworth late Friday were low level.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta warned that thousands more mailroom workers nationwide will need to begin taking preventive antibiotics. "It could be an astronomical number," said Patrick Meehan, a CDC spokesman.
Dr. Ivan Walks, director of the D.C. Health Department, said as of last night more than 10,000 postal workers and private mailroom handlers in the Washington area had been placed on either 10-day or 60-day supplies of antibiotics since Oct. 21, when a Brentwood postal employee was diagnosed with inhalation anthrax.
Dr. Walks said the total also includes the nine Supreme Court justices, who began taking the antibiotic doxycycline on Friday after spores were found on an air filter in the court's off-site mailing facility that afternoon.
As a result of the discovery, the court tomorrow will temporarily relocate to the ceremonial courtroom of the U.S. Court of Appeals on Constitution Avenue NW, where it is scheduled to hear two cases. The justices may also choose to use that courtroom for oral arguments Tuesday and Wednesday until testing is completed.
The high court is more dependent on mail than other courts. Although lawyers often use Federal Express or other courier services to file paperwork, much of the court's official business arrives by U.S. mail because the official Postal Service postmark is virtually the only acceptable proof that papers were filed on time when a document arrives after a deadline. Documents sent by any other method must arrive before a filing deadline.
Dr. Walks also said yesterday city health officials have ordered some postal workers who were initially given a 10-day supply earlier to come back and get enough for 50 more days because their mailrooms had tested positive for anthrax since they began treatment.
"The 10-day supply doesn't mean that's all a person needs," Dr. Walks told The Washington Times. "We will be calling those people who we feel need more antibiotics."
The D.C. Health Department has begun prescribing doxycycline instead of Cipro, mostly because it has fewer side effects. Even Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has been taking Cipro because he visited two post offices Oct. 19, complained of the side effects, including stomach ache and heartburn.
Besides Brentwood, other mailrooms and processing centers that tested positive for spores locally include the L Street post office in Southwest, which serves zip code 20024, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
Off-site mail facilities that had traces of anthrax also include those for the CIA and the White House.
Fearful that anthrax could spread, doctors from across the country met at a downtown hotel yesterday afternoon with Dr. Walks to seek advice on how to handle things if the disease reaches their communities.
A doctor from St. Louis, William H. Hughes, wanted to know whether the country's public health system had enough resources to handle an outbreak. Roland Pattillo, a doctor from Atlanta, said he was concerned about the negative psychological effects since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare.
Dr. Walks told the physicians with the National Medical Association they need to have an emergency response plan in place if anthrax is found in their community. He also said health experts are learning more about anthrax and its effects on a daily basis.
"People can't smell it or see it and don't know they have it until sometime later, so this is scary stuff," Dr. Walks said at the meeting. "Nobody was an expert on anthrax three weeks ago. So we can't point our finger at anyone on what did or did not happen a week ago. We only point fingers at those who are putting anthrax in our mail."
Frank J. Murray and Joyce Howard Price contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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