State Department Mail Employee Contracts Anthrax Disease
The "circle of anthrax exposure widened significantly" yesterday after health officials announced that a State Department mail employee contracted inhalation anthrax and that a second worker has "suspicious symptoms," the Los Angeles Times reports. The fact that neither person visited a contaminated postal facility or handled a letter that contained anthrax raises "more disturbing questions about who is at risk" for anthrax infection (Sanders et al., Los Angeles Times, 10/26). The unidentified 59-year-old mail handler who contracted the disease works at the State Department's main mail facility in Sterling, Va., which receives mail from the Brentwood Mail Processing Center in Washington, D.C. Four employees at the Brentwood facility, which handled an anthrax-contaminated letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), have contracted anthrax, and two have died from the disease (Sorokin, Washington Times, 10/26). Officials hospitalized the man from the Sterling facility (Los Angeles Times, 10/26). In addition, officials have hospitalized a second employee at the Sterling facility who has "flulike symptoms," State Department spokesperson Rick Boucher said (Hostetler et al., Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/26). Officials said that have not determined how the workers may have come in contact with anthrax spores. According to officials, the Daschle letter may have contaminated mail sent to the State Department, or there may have been another contaminated letter. The CDC has expanded the number of individuals who should take a 10-day cycle of the antibiotic Cipro to about 15,000, which includes workers at facilities that handle a large amount of mail from the Brentwood facility. In addition, the State Department has ordered mail handlers in more than 220 U.S. embassies to take Cipro (Los Angeles Times, 10/26).
In New York City, health officials discovered anthrax on four mail sorting machines at the city's main mail processing center, which handled anthrax-contaminated letters sent to the New York Post and several television networks (Stamey/Connor, New York Post, 10/26). Officials "cordoned off" an area on the third floor of the building and arranged for additional testing from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Los Angeles Times, 10/26). The New York Metro Area Postal Union "furiously demanded" tests for employees and urged officials to close the facility, but the mail center will remain open (New York Post, 10/26). No postal employees in New York have contracted anthrax, but thousands have received antibiotics "as a precaution" (Los Angeles Times, 10/26). Meanwhile, a second New Jersey postal worker, whom health officials have hospitalized with "flulike symptoms," may have contracted inhalation anthrax. The woman works at a regional mail processing facility near Trenton, where two other postal workers have contracted anthrax, state epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz said (Avril, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/26). "She has all the signs" of inhalation anthrax, Dr. Martin Topiel, who has treated the woman, said (Ortega,
New York Daily News, 10/26). As a result of the new anthrax cases, the U.S. Postal Service yesterday announced plans to expand testing for the bacterium to more than 200 mail facilities on the east coast (Rosenbaum/Purdum, New York Times, 10/26). The New York Daily News reports that officials now will "confront the question" of whether the letters that contained anthrax could have contaminated other mail at sorting facilities in Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey (Smith, New York Daily News, 10/26).
On Capitol Hill, health officials have found anthrax in two more locations in the southeast wing of the Hart Senate Office Building, where an employee on Oct. 15 opened the letter sent to Daschle (Merzer et al., Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/26). Officials found anthrax in an air conditioner filter on the ninth floor and in a stairway between the eighth and ninth floors of the building (Los Angeles Times, 10/26). In addition, officials yesterday found a "trace amount" of anthrax in a CIA mail handling facility, forcing authorities to close the building for "testing and cleaning" (Reuters/Yahoo.com, 10/26). In addition, Former President Bill Clinton's New York office received a package this month that contained two plastic vials with salmonella bacteria, the Secret Service said yesterday. Clinton was not exposed to the bacteria and "there is no evidence" of a link between the package and recent anthrax cases (White, Washington Post, 10/26). For comprehensive public health information from the CDC on anthrax and other bioterrorism issues, visit http://www.bt.cdc.gov/.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.