Anthrax Link to Postal Worker Deaths Confirmed
The number of confirmed anthrax infections increased again yesterday as officials announced that the deaths of two Washington, D.C. postal workers are due to the inhaled form of the disease, the Washington Post reports. The two deceased D.C.-area men, Thomas Morris and Joseph Curseen, worked in the Brentwood mail facility that processed an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Two other unidentified workers at that facility have been hospitalized for inhaled anthrax infections and are in serious but stable condition. Dr. Ivan Walks, the District's Health Department director, said health authorities are concerned about 16 other workers who have symptoms that could be precursors to inhalation anthrax, including four workers currently hospitalized whose cases are considered "suspicious," and 12 workers, not all of whom are in hospitals, whose cases have been labeled "very low suspicion" (Tucker/Goldstein, Washington Post, 10/24). Officials also said yesterday that a New Jersey postal worker is suspected of having an inhalation anthrax infection. That postal worker, an unidentified 56-year-old woman, works at a regional processing center near Trenton where three anthrax-tainted letters, including the one sent to Daschle, passed through. The woman, who went to the hospital Friday with a high fever and shortness of breath, has been taking antibiotics for five days. Conclusive tests are expected in a few days (Avril, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/24). Thus far, there are six confirmed cases of inhaled anthrax infection -- two in Florida and four in Washington, D.C. Three of those individuals have died and three are being treated in hospitals. Six other individuals -- all in New York and New Jersey -- have cutaneous anthrax infection, a less serious condition than inhaled anthrax infection (Roylance, Baltimore Sun, 10/24).
In another new development, authorities have discovered anthrax spores on mail-sorting equipment in a facility that handles mail for the White House (Tucker/Goldstein, Washington Post, 10/24). That facility, located at Bolling Air Force Base, was closed yesterday for tests and decontamination. All employees at the site have been urged to undergo tests and begin taking antibiotics. Tests of the White House have turned up no anthrax spores (Thomma, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/24). The spores found at the facility have not been traced to a particular letter or package (Allen, Washington Post, 10/24). The mail handled at the Bolling facility first is processed at the Brentwood facility (AP/Investors Business Daily, 10/24). The amount of anthrax found at the Bolling facility was 20 to 500 spores; 4,000 to 5,000 spores can cause illness in a single person, and 8,000 to 10,000 spores can cause inhalation anthrax. President Bush yesterday sought to reassure the public, saying three times that he does not have anthrax infection. He added, "Let me put it this way, I'm confident when I come to work tomorrow that I'll be safe" (Allen, Washington Post, 10/24). Bush did not say whether he has been tested for anthrax or was taking antibiotics. He added, "I understand that people are concerned, and they should be, but they need to know their government is doing everything we possibly can to protect the lives of our citizens" (Thomma, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.