No New Anthrax Leads; Nguyen Still ‘Focus’
Kathy Nguyen, the 61-year-old Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital employee who died last week from inhalation anthrax, remains the "focus" of the national anthrax investigation, as officials hypothesize that her "habits or relationships may take them somewhere other than the routes of three anthrax-tainted letters mailed from Trenton, N.J.," the New York Times reports. Nguyen's infection and subsequent death "def[ies] comprehension" because investigators have been unable to find any traces of anthrax anyplace she is known to have been in the last few weeks of her life or on any of her clothing. Her case "doesn't fit the cross-contamination pattern" either; the infections of three other individuals who died from inhalation anthrax have been linked to the mail. A senior government official said, "We're missing something here. There's something wrong here." Dr. Bradley Perkins, a CDC anthrax expert, added, "We do not have any very good leads as to where or how the exposure occurred." Now, investigators' "greatest hope" is that Nguyen "actually crossed paths with whoever unleashed" the anthrax, the New York Times reports. It also is possible that Nguyen "did in fact touch a contaminated letter" (Kleinfield, New York Times, 11/6).
Fifty-six-year-old New Jersey postal worker Norma Wallace became the third survivor of inhalation anthrax to recover enough to leave the hospital, the Baltimore Sun reports. Wallace, who worked as a mail handler in the Hamilton processing facility through which three anthrax-contaminated letters passed, said she believes she contracted anthrax when a co-worker used compressed air to clear a jammed machine and "sent dust flying" (Roylance/Shane, Baltimore Sun, 11/6). Three other people with inhalation anthrax -- two Washington, D.C., area postal workers and a State Department mail handler -- are "showing signs of improvement," the Washington Times reports. The State Department worker is still in serious condition, but over the weekend was moved out of the hospital's intensive care unit. The two D.C. postal workers also remain in serious condition, but both are "talking and breathing on their own" (Sorokin, Washington Times, 11/6). CDC researchers are gathering information to determine whether advanced age or a history of smoking could make people more susceptible to inhalation anthrax, Perkins said. The 10 people who contracted the most deadly form of the disease ranged in age from 43 to 73. One of the infected was a smoker at the time of exposure; several others are former smokers (Baltimore Sun, 11/6).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.